Rookies Impress in Loss to Broncos

Posted Aug 24, 2013

The Rams' first three picks from the 2013 NFL Draft stole the show in Saturday's 27-26 loss to the Denver Broncos. WR Tavon Austin set the tone early flashing his speed returning punts, LB Alec Ogletree displayed his ability to take the ball away, and S T.J. McDonald made plays on defense and special teams.

After the defense forced QB Peyton Manning and the Denver offense to punt, Austin gave those watching a taste of why the team traded up to No. 8 overall in this year’s Draft, when he returned a punt 81 yards and nearly punched it into the end zone.  Austin also returned a punt for 23 yards in the second quarter and finished the night averaging 52 yards per return.

As part of a strong defensive effort throughout the first half, the Rams recorded their first takeaway of the preseason when Ogletree ripped the ball out of RB Ronnie Hillman's hands, recovered the fumble, then returned it 13 yards for his first NFL touchdown. CB Cortland Finnegan initially made the hit on Hillman and kept him up, allowing Ogletree to force the fumble. The rookie linebacker out of the University of Georgia wasn't done there as he almost hauled in a one-handed interception in the end zone to force Denver to settle for a field goal.

Olgetree showed off his skills again when he put a halt to Manning's two-minute drill at the end of the first half. The 30th overall selection in this year's Draft tipped the pass to himself, then hauled in it for his second takeaway of the game. Olgetree finished with six tackles and two tackles-for-loss, according to press box statistics.

“It felt great to get out there and play fast and get my first touchdown and first interception," Ogletree said. "It was a great feeling tonight, so I’m very excited.”

The Rams' third-round pick, McDonald took Denver points off the scoreboard when he blocked a 34-yard Matt Prater field goal in the second quarter. McDonald also came up with some key tackles downfield in the first half.

Ogletree and McDonald were part of a complete defensive performance that held Manning to only one touchdown despite three trips into the red zone.

Some other defensive rookies also made with big plays when LB Ray-Ray Armstrong sacked Brock Osweiler for a 10-yard loss and CB Darren Woodard picked off an Osweiler pass for a 23-yard return.

The veterans also looked sharp. QB Sam Bradford connected with TE Jared Cook for a three-yard touchdown on the offense's opening one-play drive. Cook displayed the match-up problems he poses to defenders when Denver LB Danny Trevathan's attempts to grab and hold Cook were not enough to stop him from bringing in the reception. Cook finished with four catches for 50 yards, while Bradford threw for 160 yards on 9-of-16 passing for the night.

Bradford's continued success with Cook wasn't the only positive glimpse that came out of Saturday's contest. After leaving early in the first preseason game and returning to practice this week, RT Rodger Saffold started and suffered no setbacks throughout the first half. Also on the line, Chris Williams made his second start of the preseason at left guard.

On the defensive side of the ball, S Rodney McLeod started the game in the secondary with Darian Stewart inactive and had a crucial pass breakup in the end zone at the end of the first quarter. CB Trumaine Johnson also earned a start as the Rams came out in their nickel package.

Several defensive linemen got looks in the first half, Mason Brodine, Matt Conrath, and Gerald Rivers each registered some playing time against Denver’s first-team offensive line. DE Eugene Sims also returned to action after taking time off from training camp for family reasons.

K Greg Zuerlein made both of his field goals on Saturday night, the first from 35 yards and the second from 58 yards to end the first half.

While the Rams improved in the giveaway/takeaway column by creating four turnovers, they did not improve in the area of penalties. The team finished with 10 penalties for 69 yards.

The Rams will look to continue their improvement when they close out the preseason in the Edward Jones Dome against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 29. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.