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Rams News & Notes: Good News on Marquez

Posted Aug 21, 2016

HC Jeff Fisher said Bradley Marquez’s ankle injury is not as serious as initially feared, and the wide receiver should be able to return to practice before the end of the preseason.

Wide receiver Bradley Marquez should be back on the field much sooner than originally expected.

The Texas Tech product went down after making a reception on a screen play early in the third quarter against the Chiefs on Saturday. After the game, head coach Jeff Fisher said the wideout needed more tests to determine an exact prognosis.

Those tests came back with positive results, according to Fisher.

“Suspected a little worse last night, but got really good news with respect to Marquez,” Fisher said at his Sunday press conference to wrap up the week. “Bradley may miss a week of practice, may miss a game. But considering where we were last night when we left the Coliseum, there was some concern. But today was a good day.

“It’s nice to get good news from the medical staff, the doctors, and the trainers,” Fisher added. “Hopefully he’ll have a chance to come back this week. If not, it’s not going to be an extended period of time.”

Marquez is a major special teams contributor, and his absence would create holes throughout the different units. Considering how the wide receiver left the field on Saturday evening, good news was certainly welcome for his injury status.

Defensive end Ethan Westbrooks also left the field due to injury against Kansas City, but Fisher said he’ll be fine. Westbrooks is expected to be able to practice this week.

POSITIVE MARKS FOR BROWN

Running back Malcolm Brown has been one of the brightest spots for Los Angeles this preseason, leading the team with 134 yards rushing through two games. Brown spent most of 2015 on the Rams’ practice squad, earning a few carries in the club’s Week 17 matchup at San Francisco. With that year of experience, Fisher said nothing Brown has done in these two weeks has been much of a surprise. But the running back has clearly worked hard in the offseason to make this kind of progress.

“One of the ways you evaluate young running backs — and all running backs, for that matter — is the yards after contact. We call them ‘the violent yards,’” Fisher said. “What happens after the first hit? You can see what’s happening with him — extending plays. You turn around and look and it’s 2nd-and-1 or it’s a first down.

“He’s running, breaking tackles,” Fisher continued. “He’s got great balance. He’s a heavy runner. It’s not something that we didn’t expect, we saw a little bit out of him last year in the preseason. He’s worked hard and he’s deserving of the success that he’s had.”

“Just trusting in everything — what the coaches are teaching me. And I’m trusting in the offensive line,” Brown said Saturday of what’s led to his success. “Just trust and just having confidence that I can get the job done.”

Brown has a chance to become an important depth pice for the Rams this season.

GAINES’ RETURN TO ACTION

Cornerback E.J. Gaines played in his first game since December 2014 on Saturday night after being sidelined last year by a foot injury. While Gaines’ reps were limited as the club is bringing him back slowly, Fisher said he was encouraged by what he saw on film.

“I was really pleased with what we saw out of E.J.,” Fisher said. “He sprained an ankle out here in practice a couple days ago, didn’t know if he was going to be able to go. Fought through it, went out, and made some really big-time tackles. Just kind of reminiscent of the E.J. that we  had a couple years ago.”

Back from his foot injury, Gaines has had to work through a couple issues in training camp with his hamstring and ankle. But he has done it successfully.

“We’ll continue to increase his reps not only in practice, but also in the final two preseason games,” Fisher said.

Along with Coty Sensabaugh and Lamarcus Joyner, Fisher said Gaines is still in the thick of the starting cornerback spot opposite Trumaine Johnson.

WHO’S THE RETURN MAN?

Rookie wide receiver Pharoh Cooper has been taking first man up in the first two preseason games to return both kickoffs and punts, raising the question: Could he be the Rams’ new return man?

Not so fast, according to Fisher. The Rams will continue rolling with Tavon Austin for punts and Benny Cunningham for kicks.

“Tavon has done it before and he doesn’t necessarily need to do it [in preseason],” Fisher said. “I think we have one of the better kickoff returners over the last few years in the league, and that’s Benny.”

It is important, however, to have a contingency plan should one become necessary.

“We also need to have a backup,” Fisher said. “At times, we may have two back there to create some problems. We need to be comfortable with the backup returner, so that’s why we’ve given [Cooper] some reps there.

“Very impressed with his decision-making, his suddenness and he commits — when he commits he goes,” Fisher added.

WIDE RECEIVER COMPETITION

Last week, Fisher made a few waves when he called the competition at receiver “wide open” after Austin, Cooper, and Kenny Britt. He reiterated the point on Saturday, saying he’s seen progress from the group.

“You saw production out of Kenny — Kenny made some big plays for us,” Fisher said. “‘Coop’ had the big catch for the touchdown. Tavon didn’t get much, just because the way the game went, we didn’t have snaps and we took him out of the game. … The younger guys — we just didn’t get a whole lot of reps with them just because of the number of snaps. We’re seeing progression and improvement outside on the practice field.”

Fisher, however, did note that wideout Brian Quick had a pair of drops during this week’s game.

“Your receivers have to catch it, not drop it,” Fisher said. “He’s had too many drops, so he’s going to have to focus on that.”

TOO MANY FLAGS

In the first preseason game, the Rams had two flags. Saturday, they had nine — five of which were either offsides or neutral-zone infractions. Those are the kinds of pre-snap penalties that especially frustrate coaches.

“Those things completely overshadow the big plays that you make up front,” Fisher said. “Defensive offsides can’t be part of what you’re doing.”

Kansas City may have had a bit of an edge in that area, though, since their quarterback for much of the contest was former Ram Nick Foles.

“We know why it happened. Nick Foles is really good at it — at the hard count,” Fisher said. “And Nick knows — he’s been here, he’s seen these guys. He’s pulled them offsides all through last year through OTAs and training camp. And he knows that they’ve got a hair trigger, and he took advantage of it.

“It’s a good learning experience for our guys,” Fisher continued. “You’re going to have some [offsides penalties]. But yesterday, in my estimation, it got out of hand. It got frustrating.”

Better to have it happen in games that don’t count than ones that do. But no team can afford copious pre-snap penalties, which is why L.A. would like to nip this issue in the bud.

EXTRA POINTS

— Fisher noted one of the aspects of the offense he’s been most pleased with has been red-zone scoring.

“One thing that’s encouraging from an offensive stand-point, is that … we’ve had seven drives that have gone into the red zone, and we’ve come away with seven touchdowns,” Fisher said. “That’s a significant improvement over where we were last year. Being realistic, it’s still preseason, but we’re accomplishing what we want to accomplish as we go into the games.”

As Fisher said, it’s preseason football, so this isn’t everything. But given the way the Rams fared offensively last year, it isn’t nothing.

Think of it this way: If the Rams weren’t scoring touchdowns in the red zone, it certainly would be a story.

— Finally, Fisher said starters are likely to get more playing time next Saturday against Denver for the third exhibition matchup. And that is a team that presents plenty of challenges.

“Traditionally, your ones play a little bit longer,” Fisher said. “Sometimes, in years past, we have gone through the halftime experience and come back out. For some of the guys, that’s a first-time thing. If you get used to just coming out and playing a quarter and sitting around — once the season starts, that doesn’t happen.

“So some of the guys will go through the halftime experience. I don’t know, at this point, how many of them will. But you’re going to see more reps from the starters.”