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It was hard to avoid reading between the lines just a bit when Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was asked at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis about how the team's depth chart shaped up at free safety following the recent release of O.J. Atogwe.
"We don't get into depth charts right now, but Craig Dahl's still with us," Spagnuolo told PFW. "Darian Stewart surfaced as a young guy last year. Certainly, James Butler had been a starter for us previously, and we still consider him a starter in that regard. We feel we have some guys there. And obviously, we are still talking to O.J., so we just don't feel like that's over yet."
One team source couldn't help taking note of the fact Spagnuolo mentioned Butler's name last when talking about potential replacements for Atogwe. "It makes you wonder if he (Butler) will be back," the source said. "I mean, he didn't play much at all last year after he came back from being hurt."
Dahl, who played pretty well on occasion in 2010 as the starting strong safety, would appear to be the front-runner to replace Atogwe for now.
"He's OK," the source said. "He's got good range and is an aggressive tackler. But he was also terrible in three games."
Spagnulo was asked if Stewart, who played sparingly as an undrafted rookie, had starter's potential.
"I think he can get there eventually, but whether he'll be at that point when we get this thing going this year or not, that remains to be seen," Spagnuolo said. "I think he's got the qualities to do it. You know, we played him at that nickel 'Will' linebacker spot, and I thought he gave us some things there talent-wise. So he's certainly a guy that plays into the picture now."
As for Atogwe, the Rams are not ruling out re-signing him after he became a free agent when the team decided not to give him an $8 million roster bonus.
"It's probably 50-50," the source said on the odds of Atogwe being back. "It could be that he's had enough already with all the stuff that's gone down with him. It's not a good year in the draft for safeties, so maybe there will be some interest in him on the open market. We'll see."