Rams Ready for Final Preseason Test

Posted Aug 29, 2012

 The Rams starters are expected to play into the third quarter as they attempt to finish the preseason on a high note.  

Most of the teams in the league used last week’s games as the final preseason litmus test for their starters, plugging in the top units on both sides of the ball and letting them play the full first half plus a series or two into the third quarter.

Those same teams will use this week as nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, sitting the starters for the bulk of the game, if not the entire thing.

Here in St. Louis, though, Rams coach Jeff Fisher prefers a different approach. He wants his starters to go through a gradual build, playing a little more each week than the one before. The idea is to keep his team prepared instead of having to go a full two weeks without playing in a live game like waiting after the third preseason game.

That’s why when the Rams take on Baltimore at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome; you’ll see the starting offense and defense for an extended period beyond what they’ve done in the first three preseason contests.

“In general, yes, a little bit more,” Fisher said. “Possibly even through halftime in the first series of the third quarter.”

Each week has represented an opportunity for the starters to get some work, find some continuity and a rhythm and play a bit more than the week before. In the season opener against Indianapolis, the starters played the bulk of the first quarter but didn’t go much into the second, save for some of the younger players in need of live reps.

The next week against Kansas City, the starters worked into the second quarter but the team got off to such a fast start that it wasn’t much more than against the Colts.

Then, just five days ago in Dallas, the top units played the entire first half before calling it a night.

Obviously, changes and alterations can be made on the fly depending on how those groups fare but the Rams are preparing to get a good, long look at those starters against the Ravens in the final dress rehearsal before the regular season starts.

Fisher has a pretty clearly defined idea of what he’d like to see from his team in this final preseason contest.

“It’s how you start,” Fisher said. “It’s the emotion and the intensity in which you start and play with. And then it’s play hard consistently throughout the game, and then of course it’s a little bit of everything. It’s evaluate some of the younger guys. It’s evaluate your starters from a block and tackling standpoint and probably most important, as everybody would say right now, is get through it healthy.”

The first three preseason contests have provided mixed results with disappointing performances in Indianapolis and Dallas but a strong outing against the Chiefs.

Of course, Fisher isn’t so much concerned with the final tally on the scoreboard in those games so much as the chance to get his young team much needed game repetitions and evaluating players by putting them in situations they hadn’t yet faced.

The game planning for the preseason games has been extremely vanilla throughout and that won’t likely change though Fisher said he does want to at least give his team some familiarity with the Ravens for the final exhibition contest.

Coming off last week’s game in Dallas and with less time to prepare this week, there are a few areas in particular Fisher would like to see improvement.

Heading the list is on the offensive line. Pass protection issues popped up again last week and the Rams still have not been able to play in a game with the five anticipated starters in the lineup. That figures to be the case again this week as guard Harvey Dahl is still battling an illness.

Finding some continuity upfront is an important factor moving forward, especially when center Scott Wells and Dahl finally get a chance to work together.

“It’s important, but the two guys that you spoke of have a great deal of experience and the time that they have had in there, they’ve worked well together,” Fisher said. “You’d like to have them in. Scott’s going to play a little bit more. Harvey probably won’t play, but Harvey’s got plenty of experience right now, so we’re OK. But the other side of that is the guys that have stepped in have gotten extremely valuable reps - live reps, game reps – (G Bryan) Mattison and (C) Rob (Turner) and (G) Quinn (Ojinnaka) and even (T Rokevious Watkins) ‘Rock.’ Rock’s getting a lot of good reps.”

Don’t be surprised if the Rams continue to mix and match with the group Fisher mentioned above. Mattison started in Dahl’s place last week but Turner and Watkins have gotten looks with the first unit this week as well and could get turns with the top unit.

The running back situation should also continue to develop this week. Steven Jackson played briefly against the Cowboys but got no carries after a strong first two weeks in which he appeared ready. He’ll get some more opportunities against the Ravens before handing the keys to rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson.

“Yes, he’s going to carry a little bit,” Fisher said. “You can tell we kind of gave him the week off from last weekend from the standpoint of carrying the ball. But I’d like to get him some reps and get him banged around a little bit and get him ready for Detroit.”

Like with the young backs, the young wideouts will likely be doing some mixing and matching against the Ravens as Fisher mentioned the possibility that rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens could get some chances with the first unit.

On the other side of the ball, the Rams have some competitions that still need to be decided as well. Fisher would like to see better communication and much better tackling from his top group after the defense posted 13 missed tackles against the Cowboys.

Big plays plagued the Rams in Dallas in no small part because of those missed tackles and miscommunications. Fisher believes his secondary will bounce back.

“That’s behind them; they’ve forgotten about it,” Fisher said. “A good secondary will correct those mistakes and forget about it.”

Competitions for jobs starting and backups remain up in the air as well. Mario Haggan and Rocky McIntosh have started games as the strong side linebacker as McIntosh worked his way in last week.

Likewise, the Rams still are sorting through their nickel package corners from a group that includes Trumaine Johnson, Jerome Murphy and Bradley Fletcher. All three have been the third corner in nickel packages during the preseason.

“There’s still several (spots) that are close,” Fisher said. “If you look at the secondary, we’ve got some decisions to make. Which guy can play nickel or potentially will develop into this and that? And how do you get them the right reps? But at the same time how do you get them ready for the season? So there’s some different scenarios we’re looking at. But I think by Friday things will have cleared up for us and we’ll be able to make the right decisions.”

Thursday’s game will also serve as the final opportunity for fringe and younger players to make their case for a roster spot. The Rams must trim to their final 53-man roster by Friday night and there is one last chance for someone on the bubble to make a final impression that sticks.

“He’s got to carry over what he’s doing on the practice field into the game and show improvement over the last game,” Fisher said. “If there were some mistakes that a young player made in two previous weeks, then we expect them to be eliminated.”