Much to the chagrin of ESPN and the rest of major sports broadcasting companies, Johnny Manziel will not be the feature this weekend when the St. Louis Rams take on the Cleveland Brown in Week 3 of the preseason. Instead, Mike Pettine has chosen Brian Hoyer to take the starting reins against the St. Louis Rams ferocious defensive line. Typically, the third game of the preseason is the closest to “real” football, with starters from both squads likely to stay on the field through opening half. Considering that, the offensive and defensive game plans tend to be a little more fluid, with less scripted play calling and more creativity than they have shown in the opening half of the preseason. With all in mind, here are our five players to watch on Saturday.
DT Michael Brockers
The St. Louis Rams run defense in the opening two games of the preseason has been nothing short of embarrassing. While most of that blame can get lumped on the abysmal play of Ray Ray Armstrong and Jo-Lonn Dunbar in their attempts to fill James Laurinaitis’ spot in the middle of the defense, some of the failure to slow opposing running backs can be squarely pinned on the absence of Michael Brockers. After being held out for first two games, the third-year stud will shift back into his role as the anchor of the defensive line. Will his return be enough to slow the Cleveland Browns two-headed backfield? Will Brockers free up Aaron Donald and the defensive ends to get some more pressures on Brian Hoyer? We will have to see.
CB Janoris Jenkins
Much like Brockers, Jenkins will likely get his first taste of preseason action this Saturday, after missing most of training camp with a mysterious “leg injury.” Early reports were that it was merely as minor soft tissue tweak, but after missing nearly two weeks, many had become concerned that it was something more serious. However, with Fisher announcing yesterday that the “entire starting secondary” would be on the field, everyone will finally get to see if Jenkins can return to his rookie form, when he led the Rams in interception and led the league in defensive touchdowns. After Josh Gordon was reportedly chewed out by his head c0ach after his lackadaisical performance last week, it should be interesting to see if Jenkins (and the rest of the secondary) can keep the 2013 leader in receiving yards in check.
OL Greg Robinson
Robinson struggled last week in pass protection, after getting his first start at left tackle. However, the rookie was thrown into the fire against one of the top pass rushing units in the league, and with Mike Person as his shoulder to lean on in the interior. This week, the St. Louis Rams will supposedly have their entire starting offensive line on the field, meaning that Robinson will be sandwiched between two former All-Pros, in Scott Wells and Jake Long. Will the presence of those experienced veterans help Robinson in pass protection? How dominant can the left side of the offensive line be when running the football? We will find out on Saturday, facing one of of the best front-seven units in the AFC.
WR Brian Quick
The third-year receiver made it onto the “must watch” list last week, and did not disappoint. Quick made arguably the best catch of the night, snagging a high pass from Bradford, in traffic, and bolting down the field for a 41 yard gain. On the next set of downs, Quick got an excellent release off the line, forcing Packer cornerback, Sam Shields, to blatantly hold him, drawing a massive pass interference call that put the Rams in great position to score. By all accounts, Quick has been the most improved player on the St. Louis Rams roster this offseason. However, consistency has been the real issue for the small-school talent. Can Quick put together back-to-back solid performances?
DE Ethan Westbrooks and Michael Sam
The battle for the “final position” on the St. Louis Rams defensive line has not disappointed. The two rookies have made some tremendous plays when given their opportunities on the field, leaving good impressions both against the run and as pass rushers. Even though the “starters” will likely see an extra series or two versus the Cleveland Browns, it would not be surprising to see Jeff Fisher work one (or both) into the rotation at some point in the opening half. If Westbrooks and Sam can continue to show out on the field, it could certainly force Jeff Fisher and Les Snead to consider breaking the mold and finding a way to maintain 11 defensive linemen on the final 53-man roster.