Awards away: Rams’ Jones just another rookie

Barrett Jones played a major role on three national championship

teams at Alabama, and has the trophy hardware to prove it.

He insists it’s been no adjustment going from highly-decorated

college offensive lineman to semi-anonymous fourth-round draft pick

with the St. Louis Rams.

Jones is getting most of his work with the third team, partly

because of missing the first week of training camp rehabbing from a

foot injury, but mostly because he’s a rookie. That’ll likely be

the case again when the Rams play the Green Bay Packers in their

second preseason game on Saturday night.

So much for the owner of the 2011 Outland Trophy as the nation’s

best interior lineman when he was left tackle and 2012 Rimington

Award as the nation’s best center, four Academic All-American nods

for his 4.0 GPA and the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy for off the

field work.

”Life’s full of cycles where you go from the bottom to the

top,” Jones said. ”When I was a freshman at Alabama it was the

same, you’re the low man on the totem pole.

”I didn’t expect to come in and they give me a job.”

The Rams are taking the long view.

”You like the versatility,” general manager Les Snead said.

”If you’re going to groom a guy, let’s just say he’s not going to

start in Year 1 and you’d love for him to be active on game day, he

played every position at Alabama.”

The Rams and Packers have plenty of position battles to monitor,

while giving more playing time to the first stringers. Quarterback

Sam Bradford anticipates more snaps and more options after

”extremely vanilla” calls in the opener, and more challenging

looks from the defense he’s trying to solve.

At some point, they anticipate getting first-round pick Tavon

Austin and free agent tight end Jared Cook, more involved. But it

doesn’t have to happen in Week 2.

”Some guys are going to play significantly more,” coach Jeff

Fisher said, adding it could be ”anywhere from six to 12, 14 plays

more than they did last week.”

Veteran outside linebacker Will Witherspoon, re-signed for depth

and to help mentor first-round pick Alec Ogletree, takes over as

the starter on the other side after Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s four-game

suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Fisher said the team was ”very, very disappointed” in Dunbar,

the second-leading tackler last year and judged him ”selfish.” He

said the Rams have been aware of the suspension for a while but

that it was unrelated to the Witherspoon signing.

”It’ll make total sense for us to move Will Witherspooon up –

we’re glad he’s here,” Fisher said. ”He’s started a lot of games.

We’ll make a decision when Jo-Lonn comes back as to who’s going to

take that position.”

Fisher said Dunbar would play in the preseason, but probably not

with the starters.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy seeks ”big improvement” on offense

off a 17-0 loss to the Cardinals, the first shutout for the

franchise since Aug. 22, 1987, although there should be an asterisk

given quarterback Aaron Rodgers played just one series.

”I want to make sure everybody has an opportunity,” McCarthy

said, ”but we need to play a lot better, we need to be a lot more

productive.”

However long the starters go, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse

said performance counts whether it’s a win or loss. The Rams tied

for the NFL sacks lead last year.

”A lot of good pass rushers, a lot of good guys against the

run,” Newhouse said. ”We’ve got to go in and show what you can do

with limited plays.”

Like every preseason game every year, neither team vows not to

tip their hand.

”The less we show in the preseason, sometimes the more

productive you are,” Fisher said.

McCarthy refused to disclose the Packers’ strongest position,

saying ”I’d love to sit here and help you fill out your depth

charts, but I’m not going to do that. ”

Both teams have a crowd at running back, the Packers with

second-round pick Eddie Lacy challenging incumbent DuJuan Harris

for the starting job and the Rams with three candidates competing

to replace the production from departed Steven Jackson.

Daryl Richardson, the next-to-last pick of the draft last year,

remains the front runner after a strong rookie season. Isaiah Pead,

a second-rounder last year who played sparingly, had a costly

fumble in the preseason opener, and rookie Zac Stacy is in the

mix.

St. Louis has an opening on the offensive line, but Jones isn’t

ready. Left guard is a battle between Chris Williams and Shelley

Smith, with Williams starting the preseason opener and Smith

scheduled to start this week.

Online:

AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org/