Another week, another preseason game to over-analyze, as we creep closer and closer to the start of the “real” NFL season. Last week, the St. Louis Rams were extremely conservative on a number of fronts. Not only did the Rams stick with the basic in their offensive and defensive game plan, they were also cautious in their approach to working injured players back onto the field. As a result, backups and fringe players saw plenty of action early and often against the New Orleans Saints.
Against the Green Bay Packers, the St. Louis Rams will likely turn up the intensity a bit, adding some flair to the offensive and defensive play calling, and allowing the starters to see more snaps on the field. With that in mind, here are our five players to watch on Saturday.
WR Brian Quick
According to Brian Schottenheimer, Brian Quick has been the “most improved” player at camp so far. Analyst, reports, and even fans have supported that claim, with Quick’s name becoming a regular on the “Impressed During Practice” list. Last week, the third-year receiver was held out of the game, after missing a handful of practices leading up to the preseason opener. He was also held out of the Rams Fest Fest scrimmage, leaving the public wondering if his practice performances can translate into dominance on the actual football field. With Sam Bradford expected to play through “one quarter,” this could be a coming out party for Quick versus a solid Packers’ secondary.
TE Alex Bayer
The rookie out of Bowling Green has been arguably the biggest surprise of this year’s undrafted class, impressing during practice, then leading the Rams in receptions and receiving yards against the New Orleans Saints last Friday. Last year, Jeff Fisher only kept four roster spots open for their tight end/fullback hybrid position. With Lance Kendricks, Jared Cook, and Cory Harkey already cemented, the battle appears to be between Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer for the final spot. Another impressive showing on Saturday could seal the deal for Bayer.
DE Ethan Westbrooks
Undrafted out of West Texas A&M, Westbrooks has obviously not gotten the same national spotlight as someone like Michael Sam. However, the 6’4 tall, 267 lbs. brute might be the 2013 Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year’s biggest competition for making the final 53-man roster. Westbrooks was phenomenal in his preseason debut, recording two hits on the quarterback, three tackles, and two defensive stops in only 34 defensive snaps. That performance led to him being graded as the No.2 overall 4-3 defensive end in Week 1 of the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus. While Robert Quinn and Chris Long may see a few more snaps than last week, it is doubtful they will play more than a series or two against Green Bay. Their absence, coupled with William Hayes injury, likely means Westbrooks will get plenty of time to shine, along with Michael Sam and Eugene Sims.
CB EJ Gaines
Gaines was the toast of the St. Louis Rams secondary in the preseason opener, recording six tackles, two defensive stops, and nearly stripping the ball from the offense on two separate occasions. With Janoris Jenkins out, Gaines could battle with Brandon McGee and Lamarcus Joyner for reps in the “starting” three cornerback rotation; assuming Trumaine Johnson is active on Saturday. Behind Johnson, Jenkins, and Joyner, the rest of the cornerback depth chart is a free for all, with Greg Reid, Marcus Roberson, and a handful of undrafted players from the 2012 and 2013 classes battling for only a handful of spots. Another showing like Week 3 could ice a spot for the former Mizzou Tiger on the 53-man roster.
QB Sam Bradford
Obviously, no one needs to be told to watch Sam Bradford. However, this is his first “live action” since tearing his ACL against the Carolina Panther last season, and will be facing off against a talented Green Bay secondary and pass rushing unit. So far at camp, we’ve heard rave reviews about increased velocity on his throws, excellent chemistry (particularly with Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, and Kenny Britt), and a mastery of the playbook that has allowed his to take more control in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. Assuming that Jeff Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer aren’t masking the offense for the regular season, Saturday should be a solid litmus test for Bradford’s recovery.
Tags: St. Louis Rams