The St. Louis Rams held public practice this week, and I was fortunate enough to attend. Additionally, the Rams played their first exhibition of the 2013 preseason on Thursday, August 8 against the Cleveland Browns.
As a result, we can now take a closer look and determine which players have excelled up this point.
It’s still early and there’s plenty of time for players to pull ahead and make some noise before the opening game against Arizona on Sunday, September 8, but here are five players who have generated positive attention so far.
Sam Bradford, Quarterback
According to Nick Wagoner, formerly of StLouisRams.com, Sam Bradford has embraced his new role as the leader on offense in the absence of running back Steven Jackson, who now occupies Atlanta's backfield.
“There’s a void right now. I think it’s part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void,” Bradford said.
Bradford is expected to take the next step in his fourth year after finishing with a promising ratio of 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in 2012, and his ability to do so will be vital to the team's overall success in the upcoming season.
In the preseason opener at Cleveland, Bradford looked sharp.
Bradford completed five of eight passing attempts for 102 yards and a touchdown in only one quarter of football.
Receivers Austin Pettis and rookie Tavon Austin dropped passes from Bradford, which hindered his efforts, but it was still a solid outing.
Bradford looked cool and confident in the pocket. As of now, it appears he has total trust in his offensive line. He avoided the "happy feet" and was hardly touched by the pass rush all night.
If the first exhibition game is any indication, Bradford is on the right track in 2013.
Chris Givens, Wide Receiver
Chris Givens was a fourth-round rookie in 2012, so the expectations were not overwhelming a year ago. Regardless, Givens ended the season with 698 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch and developed a reputation as one of the better deep-ball threats in the league.
According to Shane Gray of 101 ESPN, Givens is attempting to diversify his game and become known as a more well-rounded receiver as opposed to a one-trick pony who can only run deep routes.
“I’m just trying to be more multi-dimensional,” said Givens. “Last year I was kind of just known as a deep guy and with me taking a lot of pride in what I do, I didn’t necessarily like that. So, I took it upon myself to work on all the little things so at the end of this year people would be saying a lot of different things.”
Givens was phenomenal in the Rams' preseason debut. In just over one quarter of football, he caught three passes for 82 yards and a score.
Givens caught a 59-yard bomb from Bradford, showing that he's still a deep-ball threat, but he also pulled in a three-yard touchdown grab for the Rams' first score.
Givens isn't traditionally thought of as a short-yardage, red-zone option, so his touchdown catch is an example of his diversified game.
Expect Givens to have an excellent season. At the very least, he'll remain one of Bradford's most trusted receivers throughout the 2013 campaign.
Daryl Richardson, Running Back
Isaiah Pead was a second-round pick in 2012, so his lofty draft status raised the expectations. Most fans assumed he would eventually be handed a hefty workload on offense. However, it was seventh-round rookie Daryl Richardson who stole the show and became Jackson's primary backup last season—not Pead.
Pead is expected to see an increased workload in 2013 and has plenty of time to establish himself, but as of now, Richardson is once again pulling ahead.
Pead fumbled in the Rams' preseason debut at Cleveland, which blemished an otherwise solid effort (three carries, 18 yards). But Richardson stood out above Pead with 24 rushing yards on four carries, as well as 20 receiving yards.
Richardson weighs in at under 200 pounds, so he's not an ideal every-down back. But at this point, he's the best playmaker the Rams have in the backfield.
There's still time for the running back competition to undergo some twists and turns, but once again, Richardson's preseason performance is difficult to ignore.
Matt Conrath, Defensive Tackle
Last year, undrafted free agent Matt Conrath made some noise in the preseason and was well on his way to making the final 53-man roster as depth, but his progress was hindered thanks to a knee injury, according to StLouisRams.com.
This year, it appears Conrath is up to his old tricks, once again making plays on the field.
In St. Louis' preseason debut, Conrath recorded four total tackles and was frequently creating penetration into the backfield.
Conrath was primarily playing against Cleveland's backups, so that's something to take into account. But still, it's good to see that the Rams have promising depth at defensive tackle behind starters Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford.
Expect Conrath to make the final roster and eventually become a regular part of the defensive line rotation.
Benny Cunningham, Running Back
Cunningham is a speedster and a playmaker. During his final collegiate season in 2012, Cunningham recorded 600 rushing yards on only 97 carries (6.2 yards per rush) and scored 11 touchdowns.
As of now, it appears Cunningham has value as a backup running back and a special teams contributor.
Against Cleveland, Cunningham picked up 20 yards on five carries (4.0 yards per carry), while he also had a solid kickoff return that went for 36 yards.
Pead was the team's kickoff returner in 2012 and had his struggles (including a costly fumble at San Francisco that put the game in jeopardy), so keeping Cunningham on the 53-man roster could be a smart move.
We'll see how Cunningham performs throughout the next several weeks, but he's looking like a gem as of now.