Former Tro­jan earns praise as he bat­tles for ros­ter spot

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Gary Klein gary.klein@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­timesklein

The choice, based on the ros­ter, seemed some­what per­plex­ing when Justin Davis chose to sign with the Rams as an un­drafted free agent.

The former USC run­ning back knew that Todd Gur­ley was the starter and that the team had signed Lance Dun­bar as a free agent. Mal­colm Brown and Aaron Green also were on the ros­ter.

Where was the op­por­tu­nity? Davis did not worry. Through off­sea­son work­outs and train­ing camp, he said he fo­cused on run­ning hard, catch­ing the ball and learn­ing pass pro­tec­tions while also work­ing to im­press on spe­cial teams.

And he ap­pears to be reap­ing some ben­e­fit.

Dun­bar, who played five sea­sons with the Dal­las Cow­boys, was side­lined for most off­sea­son work­outs and has not par­tic­i­pated in train­ing camp drills be­cause of a knee in­jury.

His ab­sence has en­abled Brown to as­cend to the backup role.

That leaves open a pos­si­ble com­pe­ti­tion for the third run­ning back po­si­tion if Dun­bar can­not re­turn.

“I have to make sure I’m in a spot where I don’t miss a beat,” Davis said.

Davis has looked sharp at times dur­ing team drills, hit­ting holes with quick­ness and catch­ing the ball well.

“I’ve been very pleased with him so far,” said Skip Peete, the team’s run­ning backs coach.

“He’s done a good job in both the run­ning game and pass-pro­tec­tion game, and he’s sur­prised me as a re­ceiver com­ing out of the back­field.”

Davis rushed for 2,465 yards and scored 21 touch­downs at USC.

He is listed at 6 feet 1 and 198 pounds, but he ap­pears sub­stan­tially larger than he did in col­lege.

“I re­ally made it my No. 1 pri­or­ity to get big­ger,” he said, not­ing that NFL play­ers hit harder and that he would be prac­tic­ing against play­ers such as Rams mid­dle line­backer Alec Ogle­tree ev­ery day.

Un­like re­cent years, when ros­ters were trimmed to 75 from 90 and then to 53, NFL teams this sea­son will carry 90 play­ers and then cut down to 53 af­ter the fourth pre­sea­son game.

They also can re­tain 10 prac­tice-squad play­ers.

Davis must con­tinue to per­form at run­ning back and prove his value on spe­cial teams to earn a spot on the ros­ter.

“I’m try­ing to get into ex­tra [spe­cial teams] film, be­cause spe­cial teams is the quick­est way on the field,” he said.

“So I’m try­ing to master my craft, try­ing to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to get bet­ter at that.”

Right-side shuf­fle

Rob Haven­stein, the start­ing right tackle the last two sea­sons, was moved to right guard dur­ing the off­sea­son.

Ja­mon Brown, who played guard the last two sea­sons, ap­peared set­tled at right tackle af­ter beat­ing out the since-traded Greg Robin­son dur­ing or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties and mini­camps.

Dur­ing a short no-pads prac­tice on Sun­day, Haven­stein switched to tackle and Brown to guard, and coach Sean McVay said they would prob­a­bly re­main there at least part of the week.

“We feel re­ally good about what Ja­mon and Rob have done on that right side, but with Rob’s his­tory play­ing tackle and Ja­mon’s his­tory play­ing guard, we also want to have con­tin­gency plans in place if one of them were to go down,” McVay said.

Sun­day’s moves had been dis­cussed even be­fore last Sat­ur­day’s prac­tice with the Charg­ers, McVay said.

“We’re just con­tin­u­ing to find what­ever that best mix is for our five guys up front,” he said.

The Rams prac­tice with the Charg­ers again on Wed­nes­day. They play their first pre­sea­son game on Sat­ur­day against the Dal­las Cow­boys.

Brown said cross-train­ing at sev­eral po­si­tions gives the Rams flex­i­bil­ity. Haven­stein agreed.

“Me and Ja­mon are open to any way we can help,” Haven­stein said.

Etc.

Re­ceiver Tavon Austin, who suf­fered a ham­string in­jury last week, did not prac­tice. He has missed the last five work­outs . ... Rookie re­ceiver Josh Reynolds (quadri­ceps) worked on con­di­tion­ing drills . ... Of­fen­sive line­man An­drew Don­nal and re­ceiver Bradley Marquez are not prac­tic­ing be­cause of knee in­juries, McVay said. Don­nal is ex­pected to be side­lined at least a week, McVay said.

Michael Owen Baker As­so­ci­ated Press

THE RAMS’ Justin Davis, shown at rookie mini­camp on May 12, looks much larger than he did at USC. “I re­ally made it my No. 1 pri­or­ity to get big­ger,” he said.

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