Battle looming for Rams at left guard

Most of the jobs on the Rams’ offensive line are currently accounted for, assuming good health. Rodger Saffold will be cleared soon to begin practicing at left tackle and Jason Smith, with his new uniform No. 72, is at right tackle. That duo started 31 of a possible 32 games in 2010 when the Rams were 7-9. However, in last year’s disastrous 2-14 season, Saffold missed seven games and Smith 10.

Harvey Dahl is back at right guard after moving to right tackle after Smith’s injury. Former Packers center Scott Wells came to the Rams early in free agency and will anchor the line.

The big question is at left guard. In the two-day April minicamp, Quinn Ojinnaka and Bryan Mattison took most of the reps there. Mattison started the final four games of the 2011 season at right guard after joining the team on waivers from Baltimore in late November.

Also in the mix are free-agent addition Robert Turner, who is also expected to be the backup center behind Wells, and fifth-round pick Rokevious Watkins. At Wednesday’s OTA practice, Mattison was at left guard with the first unit,

After practice, coach Jeff Fisher was asked if the team’s starter is currently on the roster.

The ever-confident Fisher said, “Yeah, he’s here. We’ve got a lot of options and we’ll continue to rotate guys in there, but he’s here. And he’ll play well for us.”

Of that rotation, Mattison told the team’s website, stlouisrams.com, “We have a little rotation going. It’s exciting. You always want to be out there with the first unit, but when I’m not and I’m with the second unit I am just as excited to do the play right. Competition is good for anybody no matter what happens. That’s what makes teams good is competition. That’s why we’re here.

“I think every day no matter where you’re at is an opportunity to prove yourself. All you can ask for is an opportunity and right now the main focus is learn the offense, get the offense right and master it and just compete. Everything else will work itself out down the road.”

Asked about Mattison, Fisher said, “Like I said, there’s ability there. We’ve got flexibility. And I wouldn’t rule out ‘Rock’ (Rokevious Watkins) either because Rock’s showed in just a couple days that he’s heavy-handed, he’s smart and he can move people and that’s what we’re looking for.”

NOTES, QUOTES

— Coach Jeff Fisher refuses to concede that the Rams are in rebuilding mode. His attitude is one of increased expectations.

Despite a 2-14 record last season and 15-65 over the last five seasons (8-56 in four of those five seasons), Fisher said, “We’ve completely forgot about last year. This is a team that’s going out there to win, period. There’s players that are emerging that were here. There’s players that are improving. We’ve got an influx of talent through free agency and the draft and we’re going to play hard and win games.”

— In time for OTAs, the Rams added veteran linebacker Mario Haggan and tackle Barry Richardson. Haggan becomes the oldest player on the team’s roster at 32 and is a candidate to be the strong-side linebacker.

Richardson started all 16 games at right tackle for the Chiefs the last two seasons, but Kansas City only wanted him back as a swing tackle.

Said Richardson, “That would not be a good situation, going from starter to backup there.”

Asked about the additions, coach Jeff Fisher said, “Barry just gives us an opportunity to line up a big man at the right tackle spot and gives us some depth there. Mario’s played very well in that system. We worked him out last week and he brings a veteran presence to our defense. He’s a strong outside linebacker and in addition to that, he’s a very talented special teamer. A great guy for the locker room and gives us some experience at that position.”

Haggan turned 32 in March, and is six months older than safety Quintin Mikell. Haggan and Mikell have both played nine seasons and are currently the only players on the Rams roster entering at least their 10th season in the league.

— As OTAs began for the Rams, several players were absent because their schools haven’t had final exams yet, including second-round running back Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati). Undrafted free agents affected are punter Johnny Hekker (Oregon State), tight end Cory Harkey (UCLA) and RB Nick Schweiger (Dartmouth).

Pead was in Los Angeles for the Rookie Premiere along with wide receivers Brian Quick (second round) and Chris Givens (fourth round).

Said coach Jeff Fisher, “Really great timing.”

— Former NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt, now with nfl.com, ranked the Rams first in his evaluation of undrafted free-agent signings.

Brandt singled out safeties Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod, defensive end Scott Smith and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis.

He wrote, “I especially like Daniels because of his intelligence and production as a four-year starter at Duke. He displays NFL-caliber speed and reaction skills as a safety. Although Duke isn’t much of an NFL factory, Daniels showcased special talent in his collegiate career. McLeod played safety at Virginia, but can transition to corner due to his speed and quickness. Hoffman-Ellis has the unrelenting competitiveness to be a great special teamer in the pros.”

— Ian Rapoport of nfl.com covered the Rams’ rookie minicamp May 11-12 and came away impressed with second-round pick Brian Quick. He wrote, “Quick is tall. Not breaking news. But it’s true. The Appalachian State product is listed at 6-foot-3, but he looks bigger. And at 220, he’s quite the beast. I knew the Rams loved him, even though most of us were shocked by the pick. I just wasn’t sure why. That’s becoming clearer. First of all, QB Sam Bradford is tall, and Quick is tall. That is a high-wire connection in the making. Anyway, Quick moves like a small guy, and he really can catch it. I didn’t see him drop one all day. He gets in an out of his breaks well, he’s nimble and he looks like a good athlete. Very solid.

Said coach Jeff Fisher, “Same thing we saw from Brian in the workout.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I can certainly answer that Mr. Franchise.” – Defensive end Chris Long, in a group interview, when asked by a linebacker James Laurinaitis his thoughts on being voted the 84th best player in the league in NFL Network’s player rankings.