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Rams' LB situation very fluid on the flanks

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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Posted Aug. 20, 2011 @ 6:15 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

With the exception of rock-solid third-year pro James Laurinaitis manning the middle, it appears the Rams' situation at linebacker could remain a bit tenuous for the foreseeable future.

Entering the preseason, it would hardly have been a stretch to assume that veteran free-agent additions Brady Poppinga, Ben Leber and Zac Diles would shape up as the team's top three outside linebackers — in no particular order.

But entering the second preseason game, Poppinga was listed second on the depth chart behind incumbent Na'il Diggs on the strong side, while Leber and Diles were listed second and third, respectively, behind Bryan Kehl on the weak side.

"It's a really fluid situation," said one team insider. "I could see Kehl (one of four different players to start on the weak side last season) going from being a starter to possibly being cut.

"I think they will keep seven (outside linebackers), but the eighth guy entering the preseason, seventh-round draft pick Jabara Williams, really showed up in the preseason opener and went from famine to feast.

"It's like night and day compared to last season."

Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole certainly would agree with that assessment.

"I think we're better at a lot of positions, and linebacker is certainly one of them," Flajole said. "We've got more depth there, and the backups are pushing the starters. The starters are feeling it, and it's making the starters better.

"(General manager) Billy (Devaney) and (head coach) Steve (Spagnuolo) have done a nice job getting guys in here. Whether it's through the draft or free agency, that gives us a chance to build some quality depth and add starters or, if they're not, great backups."

Of the three free-agent newcomers, Poppinga has made the strongest impression.

"He's always going 100 miles per hour," the insider said. "It's an interesting situation, since the strong-side 'backer is the first guy off the field in the nickel and is only playing 40 percent of the time.

"I could see him and Diggs battling for playing time this season."

We hear Diles, meanwhile, has apparently struggled a bit early on learning the Rams' playbook.

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