As the Rams close in on their first preseason contest Sunday in Indianapolis, nobody is making any pretense that they’re polished and ready to go for the regular season.
But offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, who is speaking on behalf of the defense, made it clear Wednesday night that their respective units are right on track to be where they need to be when the regular season opener does come around.
Back in the spring, the offense and defense went through an initial installation with the idea that the opening part of training camp would serve as a refresher course followed by adding on more and eventually installing a game plan.
McGinnis said that process has been smooth for the defense as training camp allows the coaching staff to identify and focus on the details.
“The defense is installed and again, we had it installed in OTAs,” McGinnis said. “What we did is we came back and then we went through it again, but we also let the coaches break it down very finite to their position groups. The only way you can play fast on defense is you have to know exactly what you’re doing and you have to have it down cold, and that was the objective coming into this camp is get this defense down cold, so we can play fast.”
On offense, things are a little more difficult as there have been a number of moving parts. The defense has had a rotation at safety but for the most part, the top unit has had a similar look day in and day out.
Offensively, there has been plenty of rotating on the offensive line, at receiver and at tight end.
Despite the mixing and matching, Schottenheimer is pleased with where the offense is heading into the preseason opener against Indianapolis.
The offense had one of its crisper performances on Wednesday and followed with another solid effort on Thursday.
“I think you see that, you notice that,” Schottenheimer said. “Again, there are still mistakes. I made a mistake today in the two-minute drive at the end. I’d like to have that call back, but that’s what we’re here for. But you see the guys playing faster now and that’s what it’s about. It’s building up to that tempo where they can actually just go and react and they don’t have to think.”
Of course, with about a month to go before the regular season opener at Detroit, there is still a lot to be done. As Schottenheimer referenced, even the coaches have mistakes to clean up.
“Believe me, I will. I make plenty of bad calls,” Schottenheimer said. “The players bail me out. I make good calls that don’t work sometimes, too.”
Sunday’s preseason opener will be a prime opportunity for the Rams to see just how far they’ve come. It’s possible they could be ahead of schedule just as it’s possible the Rams might have more clean up work to do.
“I’ll tell you a little bit more on Sunday afternoon about 4:30 or 5:00,” McGinnis said. “Again, our whole objective is to get ready to play Detroit. I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do. So you never reach perfection or nirvana in this league on defense. What you’re trying to do is continue to let them, again as I said, have the familiarity that it’s so much a part of them, that they can play fast.”
RIGHT TACKLE COMPETITION?: Incumbent right tackle
“The more familiar he becomes with our system, the better he is,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot of competition all over the roster and Barry’s created some competition at that right tackle.”
ON THE OUTSIDE: Speaking of competition, one of the places that has been getting a lot of attention for the roster battle that’s ensuing is outside linebacker.
“Absolutely, and that’s going to be a very fluid situation,” McGinnis said. “I think as we progress throughout this preseason you’re going to see different combinations there. Again, (MLB) James (Laurinaitis) clearly is the cornerstone that we are building around there, but we need to get the various combinations in because during the season, I mean you’ve got to be able, especially at the linebacker spot in this defense, they’ve got to be able to play all three spots. Now James is our ‘mike’ backer, but the other guys have to be able to fill in, play very well, and we need to give them a chance to learn those positions, too. So we’ll be using some different combinations as we go.”
JENKINS READY ALREADY?: One rookie who seems to have solidified his spot in the lineup already is cornerback
Jenkins essentially staked his initial claim to the job back in the spring and has done nothing to relinquish it in this camp. To this point, he’s been one of the most consistent performers on the field, regardless of position.
“Janoris Jenkins continues to impress out here, but Janoris Jenkins loves football and he works at it,” McGinnis said. “(Secondary coach) Chuck Cecil and (assistant secondary coach) Brandon Fisher are doing a tremendous job with him, getting him up to speed on what we’re doing, but he’s a very, very willing pupil and I’ve got no problems with Janoris Jenkins being on the field, believe me.”