Yes, the game today against the Browns is a preseason game. No, it will not count towards the St. Louis Rams regular season record. However, that does not mean that it is “meaningless” football; in fact, it is quite the contrary. As Jeff Fisher mentioned in his post-Fan Fest interview, the coaching staff for the Rams will relying heavily on these handful of preseason games to make some key changes on the depth chart, and, more importantly, key decision for the final 53-man roster. At this point last season, Daryl Richardson was still merely a 7th-rounder and Chris Givens was the other receiver taken in the draft. So, heading into Week 1 of the 2013 preseason, what should be we looking for on the field.
Running Back Battle
Yesterday, Jeff Fisher nonchalantly deemed Daryl Richardson the “starter” for the game against the Cleveland Browns. However, the designation is nothing more than a formality at this point in the offseason, with both Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy vying for first team reps… and they will certainly get some. Look for all three players to, hopefully, see significant playing time on the field today.
More than any other running back on the roster, Rams Nation should keep an eye on Isaiah Pead. Last season, Pead was timid to the hole, playing indecisive and “danced,” instead to moving the rock North-and-South. Heading into this second season, with a full offseason to prepare, Pead could finally show why the Rams used a 2nd round selection on him in the 2012 draft. He has certainly exhibited some semblance of progression at Training Camp thus far, but it won’t mean a thing if he cannot replicate that type of performance on the field.
Stacy will likely see a majority of his reps with the 2nd- or 3rd-string, which might make it difficult to truly gauge his abilities. That is, if he sees any playing time at all, after missing significant time on both Monday and Tuesday with an “arm” injury.” Either way, St. Louis’ fans can, if nothing, look forward to seeing potential “starters” on the field at the running back for a majority of the game.
Williams vs. Smith on the Interior Line
While the battle at the skill positions might be more interesting, the only spot on the team that is truly a toss-up right now is left guard. For most of camp, the 1st-team reps have been split right down the middle between returning guard, Shelley Smith, and former-Bears’ tackle, Chris Williams. For now, Williams appears to have the “upper hand,” but Smith has done nothing thus far at practice to lose any ground in the chase for the starting roster spot.
Expect to see Chris Williams start the game for the St. Louis Rams on Thursday. However, unlike the running backs, Fisher will likely not rotate Smith and Williams on a play-by-play basis, but, rather, insert each player for the entirety of am offensive series. If past preseasons are any indication, the 1st-stringers will stay on the field for first quarter, or, at a minimum, two offensive drives. However, Smith and Williams will likely see plenty of time with the 2nd unit as well, especially with Harvey Dahl returning from injury and the reputation Jeff Fisher has built in rest his veteran players.
All Eyes on Brian Quick
Brian Quick has taken over Rams Camp by storm this last week, making several massive, leaping catches that impressed some of the more grizzles critics; you know you are doing something right when Torry “Big Game” Holt is getting excited on the sideline. Quick brings a unique combination of size, speed, and jumping ability, unmatched by any other player on the Rams’ roster. If St. Louis truly plans to grow offensively, they will need Quick to make contributions on the outside, and will likely give him plenty of chances on Thursday to make a case for more playing time. Austin Pettis and Stedman Bailey have been impressive in their own right at camp, but there is a reason the St. Louis Rams took a chance on the small-school prospect in the 2nd round last year. Aside from Tavon Austin, no player in a Rams uniform will be watched as closely as Brian Quick…
Rams Offensive Line vs. Browns Defensive Line
With Trent Richardson and T.J. Ward already ruled out for the game, the battle between the skill positions and the back-seven (or eight) will not be nearly as thrilling. However, the war in the trenches should be interesting, with the completely revamped Rams’ unit taking on the new-look Cleveland Browns. In fact, the Browns’ front-seven might be one of the more impressive units in the league, featuring newly acquired Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, and Quentin Groves. St. Louis has yet to see how this patchwork offensive line will gel together against other NFL competition, with both tackles in “new” situations, and Scott Wells finally returning at “full health.” The success of the offense this season will depend heavily on the Rams’ offensive line and their ability to keep Sam Bradford off his back. We should get a good first look at the group today against a high-quality Browns’ front-seven.
Who is Returning Kicks?
Last season, the St. Louis Rams were one of the worst teams in the NFL in the return game, both on punts and kickoffs. In fact, poor field position was one of the reasons for the Rams’ offensive failures last season, averaging one of the worst starting field positions in the league. This season, the Rams figure to be significantly better, with multiple, young players possessing above-average return skills.
So far at Training Camp, there hasn’t been any one player that has seen the vast majority of reps in the return game. Most expect to see the lightning-rod, Tavon Austin, as the front-runner for the punt return gig, but the “word on the street” is that the coaching staff will refrain from using him on kick return. According to the “official” St. Louis Rams site, Chris Givens is listed as the 1st-team returner. However, assuming there is enough scoring from the Browns, expect to see a new face on every kickoff return, with no definitive name slotted into that spot on the roster.