Ready or not, the day is finally here. For the first time in over seven months, the St. Louis Rams will take the field, in full pads, to play a “real” game of football. Typically, the opening week of the preseason is structured similarly for every team in the league. The starting unit will usually see one or two series at the start of the game, depended on how well they perform. After that, the coaching staffs generally pull the majority of their stars and solidified starters, gradually rotating in second- and third-string players, eventually making their way to the bottom of the depth chart. We have seen some coaches deviate from that script over the last couple of years, with less “live action” and fully-padded practices allowed in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). However, with a number of key players returning from injury, no one should expect to see the powerhouse players from the Saints and Rams on the field for very long tonight.
With that said, a lack of “household” names does not necessarily mean a lack of action. Particularly for the St. Louis Rams, with an extremely young, deep roster and “even” talent at a number of highly-competitive positions, there should be plenty of entertainment throughout the game. So, without wasting anymore time, here are our five players to watch tonight:
1) LB Ray Ray Armstrong – Ray Ray Armstrong might be the most intriguing young player on the St. Louis Rams roster, and might be the only player in the league that you would pay to watch on kick and punt coverage teams. However, with James Laurinaitis recovering from a mild ankle sprain, the St. Louis Rams special-teams ace has been seeing some extra reps with the first-team defense during training camp. With nothing to suggest Laurinaitis has been cleared to return, all signs point to Armstrong seeing some extended time in the middle linebacker slot (or at outside linebacker, with Jo-Lonn Dunbar shifted to the interior). With his intensity and big-hit ability, the former Miami safety could work his way into the starting lineup as soon as the 2015 season. Showing some progress through this preseason will be the first step.
2) DB Lamarcus Joyner – Aside from the raving reviews of Aaron Donald, the Rams third selection in the 2014 NFL Draft has been arguably the most impactful player on the defense throughout training camp. He intensity on the field and unwillingness to surrender defensively, documented in his battles with Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis, have made him a favorite among the coaches and fans, alike. With Janoris Jenkins nursing an undisclosed leg muscle injury, Joyner might be the first in line to take reps on the outside with the first-team defense. However, Gregg Williams will undoubtedly give him some snaps in the nickel and at free safety tonight, allowing Joyner the opportunity to truly show off his versatility in the secondary.
3) OL Greg Robinson – On the offensive side of the football, no lineman will draw more eyes than the St. Louis Rams second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. With Jeff Fisher already announcing that Jake Long will be held out, Robinson should see extended time at both left guard and left tackle against a New Orleans Saints’ defensive line that ranks near the top of the league last year. While his ability to road grade should be a delight to watch, his progression as a pass protector will the piece to keep an eye on this preseason.
4) WR Kenny Britt and Brian Quick – My most accounts, the dynamic duo of Britt and Quick have been the toast of the receiving corps for most of camp. Britt has not only become the vocal leader of the group, but appears to have infused the rest of the wide outs with a physicality and swagger that has simply not been there in the past. Quick, on the other hand, has been touted as the “most improved” player of the offseason, and has regularly seen his name pop up in post-practice recaps, documenting one or two spectacular catches from the day. However, the St. Louis Rams have regularly seen training camp “stars” fail to shine once they step foot on the field against a non-”friendly” opponent. Tonight will be our first chance to see if the hype is real, or just a another training camp mirage.
5) DT Aaron Donald – No player at Rams Camp has received more praised than Aaron Donald, who has been deemed everything from “unblockable” to “unreal” by coaches, players, and reporters that have visited training camp this year. Tonight will be Donald’s first shot in “live” NFL action and, fittingly, will be matched against a pair of All-Pro guards for the New Orleans Saints. With Michael Brockers potentially being held out of the game, Donald could see a more-than-usual amount of reps on the interior of the defensive line. That should mean more fun for Gregg Williams and a lot less fun for the Saints offensive line.
Tags: St. Louis Rams