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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Rams counting on improvement from pass defenders learning on job

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ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams' secondary doesn't have veteran leaders, high-dollar talent or big names.

Those handling spots on the last line of defence are confident they won't be a liability.

Together, they'll try to dispel the notion the Rams are counting on one of the NFL's best pass rushes to keep the heat off the pass defenders.

"We're young, you can say that," safety T.J. McDonald said. "We're motivated to be the best in the NFC West, best in the league."

While rebuilding, the Rams haven't been bashful about throwing rookies into the fray at any position. So while all four are young, they've got some experience.

"I'd rather have that," general manager Les Snead said. "That's where you start thinking you can ascend."

Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have been inconsistent and safeties Rodney McLeod and McDonald are unproven.

Together, the group has 71 career starts — 30 by Jenkins. McLeod started every game last season, Johnson has 15 starts in two seasons and McDonald started 10 as a rookie last season.

The offensive line has veterans Rodger Saffold, Jake Long and Scott Wells and Kenny Britt is a veteran wide receiver.

The Rams are heavily invested on a defensive line that has three former first-round picks and at linebacker, too, with James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

"There's nothing easy against those guys, especially up front," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "That front seven is really, really tough."

The secondary, which is without Cortland Finnegan who was released in the off-season after a serious eye injury, is never mentioned as a strength.

"It's definitely motivation," McLeod said. "We just want to be a top defence and it's about what we do as a unit. We've all got to work as one."

Jenkins, 25, is a former second-round pick and tied the NFL rookie record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2012.

Entering his third season he has 30 career starts, but he had just one pick last year and the flip side of the big-play capabilities is he's also been beaten a lot on big plays.

Johnson also is in his third season and has been the full-time starter since last October. Now he's helping the newcomers.

"It's a challenge at times," Johnson said after practice Thursday night. "A lot of guys looking up to me, so I've got to be on my 'A' game every day."

McLeod was undrafted out of Virginia in 2012 and proved himself on special teams for a season before becoming the starter last year. Coach Jeff Fisher said he's seen "nothing but improvement" since mid-season.

"He gets it, he feels good, he's got a great feel for the defence," Fisher added. "You can't say enough about his special teams contribution."

McDonald was a third-round pick last season and was immediately plugged into the lineup.

That will also be the case for rookie Lamarcus Joyner, a second-round pick. Brandon McGee, a fifth-rounder last year, is in the running at nickel back and E.J. Gaines was a sixth-round pick this year.

"Me personally, I'm just getting started. Rod, too," McDonald said. "We have big aspirations and the only way to reach them is by controlling what we're doing right now."

NOTES: Jake Long took snaps in a team session Thursday night and said he remains on schedule to be ready for the opener. Long had ACL surgery on his left knee in late January. ... Laurinaitis was limping at the end of practice after getting his left foot stepped on. ... Fisher said the most impressive aspect of camp thus far is an increase in "explosive" plays.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL.

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