After spending all of last season on injured reserve following a knee injury early in training camp, don’t expect St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney to worry about learning two or three different positions.
The seventh-round draft pick in 2014 originally came to camp in a three-way battle at center with Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes, but injuries along the offensive line have the Rams looking at the athletic Rhaney at guard. He was at right guard at practice Monday after starting at left guard in Saturday’s 24-14 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The unsettled nature of the offensive line finds the Rams with two injured starters (Rodger Saffold and rookie Jamon Brown), two rookies with Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein and a pair of second-year players in Rhaney and left tackle Greg Robinson.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into it, so I would say it’s surprising but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to be here and compete for a job,” said the 23-year-old Rhaney, 6-foot-2 and 301 pounds. “I’m just making the best of it. I think it helps me a lot to be able to step in whenever my name is called, whether that’s at center, right guard or left guard.
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“Wherever they need me I’m willing to step in and get the job done.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Rhaney has been noticeable, particularly on screen passes where he moves quickly downfield to make blocks.
“He’s been playing well at both positions, especially productive on the second level in the screens and downfield,” Fisher said Monday. “He’s very athletic and made some really good blocks.”
Rhaney, who played some linebacker and defensive line in high school before moving to the offensive line, spent his first three college seasons as a guard. He played center as a senior, but never forgot how to hit — or run.
“I just like to run I guess. I can catch it a little bit too, now,” he said with a smile, as if ready to take some reps at tight end.
Ironically, the former Tennessee State standout may not have even been part of the Rams this season had it not been for that 2014 knee injury. Once the Rams placed him on injured reserve last August, Rhaney took full advantage of everything from workouts and meetings to picking the brains of assistant coaches and teammates.
“It was huge,” Fisher said. “The injury was a big disappointment to us the way it all went down. It was a field goal protection thing. He spent time here the whole offseason ... he’s really put the time in. It’s paying off for him.”
Rhaney said he was on crutches for nearly three months, but as he got better he began to add strength and knowledge that eventually helped him reach the enviable spot he has now.
“(Last year) I was fresh in the league,” he said. “When I first went down on the field, the first thing I thought was ‘it’s’ over with.’ I never heard of IR, I didn’t know what it was.”
Did he seriously consider his career could be finished before it even began?
“Nah, it never got that far. That was my first time ever being injured, so I didn’t know how to take it,” he said. “My agent, she kept me pretty level-headed and I just attacked it like that. I guess I showed enough that they had enough faith in me to keep me around. So I’m going to make sure I do my job to show them they made a good choice.”
Rhaney soaked up as much as possible during the time he was injured last season. He also stayed in St. Louis throughout much of the offseason, keeping things fresh - and keeping himself in the picture.
“I already had a chip on my shoulder coming in, that just made it a bigger chip,” he said of the injury. “It gave me time to get smarter and get stronger and get ready for the next season. I guess I showed enough that they had enough faith in me to keep me around. I’m going to make sure I do my job to show them they made a good choice.”
Fisher said Saffold is “getting closer” with his shoulder injury.
Rams make first roster cuts
The Rams on Monday made their first round of roster moves, including placing former starting cornerback E.J. Gaines on injured reserve. They also terminated the contract of veteran wide receiver Damian Williams, making him a free agent.
Among the 10 players waived Monday were cornerback Imoan Claiborne, offensive tackles Steven Baker and Travis Bond, safeties Jay Hughes and Tyler Ott, kicker-punter Michael Palardy, wide receiver Tyler Slavin, tight end Brad Smelley, linebacker Korey Toomer and center David Wang.
They still need to reduce the roster by two more to reach 75 players before the Tuesday deadline.
Claiborne, who had shown flashes of good play at cornerback, was perhaps the only real surprise among the roster casualties because of a relatively thin group of cornerbacks after injuries to Gaines and Brandon McGee (foot). Claiborne, Trovon Reed and Marcus Roberson each had seen time at backup cornerback throughout the first three preseason games.
Claiborne, a rookie out of Northwestern State, had an interception and three tackles.
“He played good, he made plays,” Fisher said of Claiborne. “He’s a potential practice squad candidate, but just because of the other positions and numbers, it just didn’t work out for us. We’ve got depth there. The other two young guys are doing good.”