Rams Focused on Philly

Posted Sep 5, 2011

An unblemished preseason in which the Rams performed at a high level in all but one game and their starters looked particularly sharp in the final two contests was wiped away soon after the clock struck all zeros in Jacksonville on Thursday night.

“To add them all up and say we were undefeated in the preseason and it means this or it means that, I really don’t get caught up in that,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “It’s kind of start from round one again because we all want to get in the playoffs, win a division, etc, etc. and try to keep all those other goals alive. And these particular games don’t help us do that. They help us build confidence, yes. But now that it’s all over with, it’s time to move on to the next phase of the NFL season.”

That next phase began in earnest over the weekend when the Rams and the other 31 teams around the league trimmed their rosters from 80 to the required 53 players allowed.

But it really began for the Rams on Monday when they returned to the practice field with their current incarnation of the 53-man roster and an eight-player practice squad.

Before the Rams fully immerse themselves in the process of preparing for the Eagles for Sunday’s regular season opener, it is possible to look back at the preseason and see what little can be gleaned from it as the Rams make those preparations.

At the top of the admittedly short list of gains from the exhibition season? Confidence.

“Confidence level is high,” end Chris Long said. “We have put in a lot of work, even with the lockout.  We don’t feel like we’re behind.  We feel like we are right where we need to be with a lot of work to go and a lot of season left. The great thing is that we made it out of the preseason pretty healthy and we have the opportunity to go out and play the Eagles next week.”

Indeed, more than the confidence gained from a 4-0 preseason in which it seems the young Rams caught on quicker than expected and the veteran free agents seemed to integrate seamlessly, the team’s biggest victory probably came in the form of an injury report that was limited to some bumps and bruises besides one or two major ailments.

In fact, aside from the early loss of cornerback Jerome Murphy to a season-ending ankle injury, the Rams made it through the preseason without any major injuries expected to cost a serious amount of time.

“We’re fairly healthy from an overall team standpoint,” Spagnuolo said. “Now we lost Jerome Murphy and that’s going to hurt and certainly we’re battling with (TE) Mike Hooman (Hoomanawanui) but overall not too bad. So I think Reggie (Scott) and (Strength Coach) Rock Gullickson, the training staff and the strength staff did a pretty good job.”

Considering the shortened training camp time and the quick turnaround from practice to games, there were a lot of injuries around the league. Seventeen players suffered season-ending Achilles injuries alone, an injury that can be correlated to lack of offseason training.

In total, there are 93 players on injured reserve lists already; meaning almost 100 players won’t play a single regular season game.

Given to condensed camp time and the altered rules that made things more difficult for players mentally and physically, the Rams seemed to make the most of it.

“I think we did the best with what the rules, as the rules were presented, I really do,” Spagnuolo said. “I kind of liked, we weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but you know we had the walk-through in the morning and then we had the one practice in the afternoon. I think for teaching purposes the players absorbed things a little bit better. It’s kind of the crawl before you walk, or before you, run etc. So you give it to them in the meeting, they go out on the field and they walk through it and then come out on the practice field and do it full speed. I think it worked well for us.”

The Rams’ preference toward drafting players who have shown a certain level of intelligence also seemed to pay off.

Tight end Lance Kendricks caught on quicker than just about anyone and earned his spot as an almost certain game day starter. He wasn’t the only rookie to latch on to a spot on the roster, either as the team cut just two draft picks, one of whom (CB Mikail Baker) was injured and the other whom landed a spot on the practice squad (S Jonathan Nelson).

Count running back Steven Jackson among those impressed with how quickly some of the younger players caught on. Of course, he’s also quick to point out that there is still much to accomplish, not only to be ready for the Eagles but for the grind of the season as a whole.

“There’s still some work to be done,” Jackson said. “I think week 1 we will not be the same team we will be in week 12. Each and every week you hope to improve as a team, especially as an offense. It’s still new to us. We are executing at a high level to be so young in the offense but I still think week in and week out we will get better and I think what’s scary about this team is that as the weeks go on, I think we will be a better time. Over time, I think we will see the progress.”

The progress of the preseason was most evident in the jump the top teams made from week two to week three. The Rams struggled against Tennessee in the second week but put on a show in a thoroughly dominant first quarter performance against the Chiefs a week later.

Because the shortened preseason and new practice rules limited the amount of snaps the starters got in camp, Spagnuolo opted to do what many coaches in the league did by allowing the starters to play deeper into the final preseason game.

Again, the Rams starters made a strong statement of their preparation level.  Still, nobody was in the mood for a parade following the perfect preseason record.

“Absolutely not,” Jackson said. “Over time we’ve been a good team in the preseason over the past few years. Any time you keep score you go out and try to win the game but pre-season is just that, fine-tuning and allowing guys to get back in the groove of football, allow talent to be evaluated. But come next week we have to get ready for Philadelphia and the scoreboard really matters.”

Make no mistake; the Rams didn’t just begin the process of getting ready for the Eagles. Quarterback Sam Bradford, for one, has been looking ahead for quite some time.

“Yeah, I have definitely taken a peek,” Bradford said. “It’ll be nice. The preseason is great because you get some work in live situations but I’d be lying if I said my mind was totally into the last couple of games and wasn’t focused on Philly.”

The focus for everyone is now most certainly on Philadelphia. Nothing else that’s been done to this point will count but that doesn’t mean all of that work doesn’t matter. 

“Each week we come out here to compete to win,” Long said. “Coach says every time they keep score we are going to compete to win, no matter if it’s preseason or what. The good thing is we put in a lot of good work. That work stays but the record doesn’t. The slate is wiped clean, good or bad and now it’s time to focus on the real games.”