Rams to Tre Mason: It’s time to step back up

It’s easy to assume Tre Mason’s troubles last year at running back with the Rams was due to the presence of Todd Gurley, who ended up as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But that would be a bit too convenient of an excuse.

Coming off a rookie season in which he rushed for 765 yards in 2014, the former Auburn running back is much too talented to run for just 207 yards his second season while averaging a paltry 2.76 yards per carry. Yes, Gurley cut dramatically into Mason’s touches. And that was bound to have an impact on production.

But there is no excuse for the poor performance from Mason when he did get his chances. Or missing the Rams bus to the airport in late November and being deactivated for their game against the Seattle. Mason is too good to fall off that far.

As he heads into a critically important offseason, the onus is on him to get straightened out. And that starts with a strong effort over the next six months and into training camp.

“Tre has got to have a great offseason program,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “That, in itself, is going to be a challenge for us because it’s going to take place out in Southern California. We’re expecting, hoping, that everybody comes in.”

That includes Mason, who can help solidify his role on the roster with a committed offseason. With the Rams envisioning an explosive running game interchanging the talents of Gurley, wide receiver Tavon Austin, fellow running back Benny Cunningham and Mason, he can help lift the Rams from a lethargic offensive team to a versatile, productive one.

Even in limited playing time.

“We drafted Tre for a reason. When you look at that position, when you’re talking about Todd and Tre and then Benny,” said Fisher. “I think that’s as good a group as you’ll find in the league, from a depth standpoint. Then the difference in their abilities and what they do. I think Tre realizes he has to put the commitment in, wherever he is, and have a great preseason.”

Rams: LB Mark Barron a priority

When the Los Angeles Rams released long-time middle linebacker James Laurinaitis last week, the gist of the move was to shift Alec Ogletree from outside to inside to replace Laurinaitis.

The motivation was twofold: The Rams believe Ogletree will blossom playing inside, where his size, speed and instincts make him an ideal fit. But they also want to make Mark Barron the full-time starter at the Will linebacker position, Ogletree’s former spot.

Barron replaced an injured Ogletree after Ogletree was lost for the season four games in last year with a fractured ankle. Barron recorded a career-high 113 combined tackles last year, and after playing at safety, cornerback and linebacker since adding him to the roster two years ago, the Rams want Barron to stay put at the Will.

The problem is, Barron is an unrestricted free agent. And while the Rams want to bring him back – and by all accounts he wants to come back – he is expected to draw plenty of outside interest.

Barron was a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 as a strong safety – the seventh pick overall – but things didn’t work out in Tampa and the Rams were able to trade for him in 2014.

It turned out to be a genius move, with Barron turning into a defensive force last season. Now they want him back on a long-term deal.

“We really liked Mark coming out, draft wise. And we were surprised to some extent that he was available and so we took advantage of it,” Fisher said. “So we just kind of plugged him in and Gregg (Williams) is good at moving people around and creating opportunities, and then early on in the season unfortunately we lost Alec and Mark’s reps increased and I thought he had a really good year. If you see there’s a trend in the league for that kind of guy. And we feel he really fits in our defense so he’s a priority from the standpoint of getting him re-signed.”

Rams: It’s official, Ogletree to MLB, Boras is the Offensive Coordinator

Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher made a couple of things official at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

First, Rob Boras is officially the offensive coordinator.

And as expected, Alec Ogletree is moving to middle linebacker.

Both moves have been in the works for sometime, with the Boras shift dating all the way back to last season when he took over for the fired Frank Cignetti Jr. over the last four games and the Rams finished with a 3-1 record. Since then, the Rams also added Mike Groh to be the wide receivers and passing game coordinator, Skip Peete to coach running backs and Ted Lilly as tight ends coach.

The goal, of course, if to inject life into an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL last year.

“The coaching staff is complete,” Fisher said. “I was really pleased with what Rob Boras was able to do down the stretch. I’m excited about Mike Groh, who has come in as our passing-game coordinator, and he’s going to coach receivers. We’re really excited about him. We’re very appreciative of Coach Fox and the Bears organization allowing him to move on and join us. The rest of the guys, Skip Peete, his stuff speaks for itself. He’s an outstanding running backs coach, an experienced coach with a lot of good runners. Then Coach Lilly is going to move over and coach tight ends. So everything was done on the offensive side of the ball, and I can assure you they’re working very hard right now.’’

As for Ogletree, his shift from outside linebacker to inside essentially became official when the Rams released long-time middle linebacker James Laurinaitis last week. Ogletree, a first-round pick in 2013, was the Rams leading tackler last season before a fractured ankle four games in sidelined him for the rest of the season.

“I’m confident that Alec can do it,” Fisher said. “Alec is going to get people lined up. He’s a really smart player. The question is, Alec moves over. As I told James, that was the reason for the decision.”

Ogletree had 55 tackles at the time of the injury, and reached double figures in tackles all four games.

“He’s excited,” Fisher said. “I’ve had the conversation with him, since the difficult time in releasing James, and Alec was really excited about moving inside. He’s been in the building every day, and he’s wearing (defensive coordinator Gregg) Williams out.”

Redskins coach Jay Gruden on Robert Griffin III

It’s no secret the Rams might soon be interested in Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. With Kirk Cousins taking over the quarterback job in Washington D.C., the Redskins are expected to release RG3 soon.

And with the Rams obvious need at quarterback, Los Angeles is a logical potential landing spot.

The problem is figuring out what the heck happened to RG3 in Washington that he went from potential franchise quarterback after being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 to not even taking a snap during the 2015 season and likely looking for a job in two weeks.

It’s easy to dismiss RG3 as a bust considering his dramatic fall, but he was talented enough to compile a 102.4 quarterback rating in 2012 and complete over 60 percent of his passes and throw for more than 3,200 yards in 2012 and 2013, so it’s obvious there is potential to tap into.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who opted to go with Cousins at quarterback all last season, shed some light on RG3’s fall off on Wednesday at the scouting combine.

“Well I think the injuries hurt him a little bit,” Gruden said. “My first year here, he got hurt against Jacksonville and that set him back a little bit. We keep talking about repetition and when you miss those key repetitions in those games and practices, that’s going to set you back. And all of a sudden he gets well and he’s put back in the starting lineup against Minnesota and plays pretty well, though we had our struggles at the end of the year, but I think the injury hurt him a little bit.”

In the meantime, Cousins played well enough to hold onto the job.

“I think it was more Kirk’s play than anything. Kirk’s development in the OTAs that we could just see him continue to progress when Kirk got the opportunities with the ones in practice. There was always a successful drive and I think people could see that. It was more about Kirk, not as much about Robert as people think.”

Rams quarterback: There will be competition and new faces in training camp

The Rams arrived in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine pretty certain of one thing: They are committed to upgrading the quarterback position.

Yes, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said at the conclusion of last season that Case Keenum was the de facto starter, although if training camp opened today Keenum would be in a battle with Nick Foles and rookie Sean Mannion.

But with training camp still six months away – and the free agency period and the draft standing in between – the quarterback population could look quite a bit different in August then it does right now.

“As it relates to the quarterback position it’s probably a good chance there’s going to be another one in (training) camp if not two,” Fisher said Wednesday. “And I can’t say whether that’s going to come through the draft or free agency or a trade. But that’s a position we’re looking to upgrade.”

The Rams will get their first up close look at the draft’s quarterbacks on Thursday when they arrive in Indianapolis for their medicals evaluations and team and media interview sessions. The quarterbacks will have their on-field workouts on Saturday.

Armed with the 15th pick in the first round, the Rams will keep a close eye Thursday on Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch. All three are projected as first-round picks, and at least one should be available when the Rams make their first-round selection.

If the Rams pass on a quarterback that high, the second round and beyond should yield players like Connor Cook of Michigan State, Christian Hackenberg of Penn State, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, Cody Kessler of USC and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan.

Depending what happens with some potential NFL free agent quarterbacks, the Rams could be looking at the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III, the Broncos’ Brock Osweiler and the Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick, among others, on the open market.

For now, though, Keenum is the starter after guiding the Rams to a 4-1 finish upon taking over for Foles.

“Looking at the body of work of Case, I thought Case finished strong and Case has won some games,” Fisher said. “He was an overtime blocked kick in San Francisco and an incomplete pass from maybe winning all five. Case is excited about the opportunity to come in and hang onto that job. But there is going to be competition.”