Rams Ready for Preseason Opener

Posted Aug 12, 2011

In a season that heretofore has been unlike any in the history of the league, with preseason games kicking off this weekend, the obvious question is how the changed and shortened offseason will affect what goes on in the exhibition schedule.

Will coaches play their starters more in an effort to rush them to get up to speed? Will they hold the starters back even more than usual because of fear of injuries to guys who may not be ready to play yet?

It’s those questions that even the players are asking as the Rams head toward Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Colts at the Edward Jones Dome.

“It’ll be different but you still have to just go out and play football,” linebacker Zac Diles said. “But who knows how it will be because the offseason was so much shorter?”

Every coach in the league will probably have his own approach but for the Rams, Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t appear poised to do anything too much different than what he’s done in his first two seasons as coach.

In those two years, Spagnuolo has pretty much stuck with the idea of slowly easing his starters into action in the preseason opener then having them take on larger roles in games two and three and then pulling back on the reins in the finale.

For the first game, at least, it appears Spagnuolo has no plans to stray from that following a Thursday meeting with his staff to divvy up that playing time.

“I’ve probably been asked that question a dozen times,” Spagnuolo said. “We talked about (ones), (twos) play time today. And quite honestly, probably not (much change). The guys that you normally just give a rinse and protect, you are still going to do that. The young guys you still want to get a lot of snaps, so I don’t think that it changes all that much for us. It really didn’t.”

In other words, the Rams will probably take the status quo approach from the past two seasons.

Spagnuolo said quarterback Sam Bradford and “his group” will play about 12 to 15 plays. Ideally, that would encompass one drive and then they’d be done for the evening but it could be two series depending on how the first one goes.

Running back Steven Jackson is likely to play even less, as he has in recent seasons to preserve his health.

Although he’s only expected to play a dozen or so snaps, Bradford says he and his teammates are excited just to get back into a game atmosphere.
“You have no idea,” Bradford said. “The fact that we have been in camp for almost two weeks now and you’ve gone against the same defense and the same guys, it’s just going to be nice to line up against someone different and get back into the mentality of playing in a game.”

Adding to Bradford’s excitement – and the fans’ for that matter – is the first glimpse of new coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense and the quarterback’s first opportunity to run it.

Of course, like in most preseason contests, that offense figures to be fairly vanilla in terms of play calling because teams prefer not to give away too much in the preseason. Still, it will be the first test run for McDaniels and the offense.

For Bradford and his offensive running mates, it will also be the first chance to gel in a game atmosphere with new additions like receiver Mike Sims-Walker, guard Harvey Dahl and running backs Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood.

Bradford won’t be the only one eager to see how the competition at wide receiver begins to shake out, either. There are 11 wideouts on the roster and the Rams figure to keep six. Aside from Danny Amendola, Spagnuolo has said nobody has really separated from the rest of the competition yet.

“Yeah, I really am,” Bradford said. “I thinks it’s going to be very interesting to see too…the longer camp goes the more we put in, who’s able to stay up mentally not just physically. But who’s able to come out here and execute when we don’t just have a portion of the playbook in, but when we do have the whole thing in.”

While the offense is drawing most of the attention because of McDaniels’ addition, the Rams are also working in some new pieces on defense including potential new starters at defensive tackle, linebacker and safety.

That doesn’t even include the rookies such as defensive end Robert Quinn. The team’s first round pick back in April, Quinn will be playing in his first football game in about a year and a half.

After recovering from a knee injury, Quinn has worked to get up to speed quickly and Spagnuolo – ever the fan of pass rushers – is excited to get a look at him.

“I’m anxious to see him play,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s taking Robert a little bit. He started off on that NFI (Non-Football-Injury) and then he kind of went in and it was all new to him. I’m not so sure he knew the tempo of practice in this league and he still hasn’t gotten there yet, but hopefully when the lights go on and we’re playing a game we’ll see some of the things we saw in college.”

Despite having a roster of 90 players, Spagnuolo indicated the Rams will be without about a dozen players for Saturday’s game. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (strained pectoral), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) and Donnie Avery (leg) are among those not expected to go.

For the Colts, quarterback Peyton Manning won’t be playing because of a neck condition that has him on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Curtis Painter will start for Indianapolis.

If nothing else, the Rams are excited just to get away from the monotony of hitting one another and taking on someone in a different uniform.

“It will be good to hit somebody else, I know that,” Spagnuolo said. “They are at that point in training camp right now where they are probably a little bit tired. It’s wearing on them a little bit. I’m just hoping the fact that you are playing another team juices them up for an evening. We are going to have a good go at it and then they have the next day off.”

Time off is a valuable commodity at this time of year but it also doesn’t take the competitive drive away from guys who always want to be in the game.

So while not playing starters for long periods of time in preseason games is meant to protect guys like Bradford, it doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“There’s no doubt,” Bradford said. “I want to win every game. I don’t know how many plays I’m going to play, but I know that however long I’m in there I’m going to try and score a touchdown every time we touch the ball.”