ST. LOUIS (AP) 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.