St. Louis Rams: Five Best Position Battles Heading into OTAs

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

3. Strongside Linebacker

Candidates: Akeem Ayers, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Mark Barron

The Rams signed Ayers, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound pass-rushing specialist, during free agency this offseason. A reigning Super Bowl champion, Ayers provides a blitzing presence that the Rams didn’t have in 2014, as they attempted to utilize weakside linebacker Alec Ogletree off the edge to no avail.

However, Jeff Fisher stated earlier this offseason that Ayers would be competing for the strongside linebacker job with the 30-year-old Dunbar, who frankly looked to be on the way out in 2014, as there were several games in which he didn’t even get on the field during the latter part of the season. Going into the last year of his contract, Dunbar is still looking to get back to the level of performance he displayed in 2012, when he had 115 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions as the Rams’ primary outside linebacker. Dunbar is a more traditional linebacker than Ayers and may be more viable in coverage, but if coverage is the primary concern on a particular play, it’s more likely that Barron or a third corner will be on the field in place of the strongside ‘backer.

As a natural safety, Barron isn’t going to be the Rams’ every-down strongside linebacker, but after seeing a good amount of action at the position following his acquisition at the trade deadline last season, we’ll have to see if he is used similarly in 2015. The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder is exceptionally physical and is stable enough in coverage to cover tight ends and some slot receivers, so he can act as somewhat of a hybrid between a strongside linebacker and nickelback. Ayers will almost definitely be on the field whenever the Rams want to dial up the pass rush, but it’s possible that Barron might see more playing time.

Next: 2. Right Guard