The St. Louis Rams played their preseason debut in Cleveland on Thursday, August 8 and gave us our first look at the team against a real opponent.
The contest provided insight into several of the key positional battles that have been highly discussed over the past several months.
Nothing is set in stone. There's still plenty of time for these positional battles to take some twists and turns, but as of now, here's what we can conclude...
Left guard has come down to a fierce competition between Shelley Smith and former first-round pick Chris Williams, and it's too close to call at this point.
Williams started the game in Cleveland, but he was not impressive. On the first drive, he was beat three times in pass protection, allowing the defender to break through and hurry the quarterback.
He also struggled with run blocking on that first drive. On two occasions, his guy was able to shed the block and tackle the ball-carrier.
On the second drive, Williams remained in the game and played better until he dropped into pass protection on third down—he was pancaked by the pass rusher and his guy hurried the quarterback and forced an incompletion.
On the third drive, he stood his ground and improved. His run blocking helped the Rams march down the field for their first touchdown of the game.
Smith didn't get an opportunity to play with the first-team unit, so it's hard to say where he stands at this time.
According to Nick Wagoner of StLouisRams.com, Smith and Williams have been rotating at left guard in training camp. There's a good chance that Smith will take over as the starter for the next preseason contest against Green Bay on Saturday, August 17.
Until we see Smith in action with the first-team offense, it's hard to say which player has the better shot.
However, going off the Cleveland game, the struggles at the guard position indicate that the job is still wide open.
The safety position seems to be fully resolved at this point. We can expect to see Darian Stewart and rookie T.J. McDonald take the field against Arizona in Week 1.
However, that's not to say things can't change. After all, the safeties were anything but impressive against Cleveland.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden was 10-for-13 against the St. Louis secondary and finished with 112 passing yards. The Rams secondary did very little to break up passes or prevent easy completions.
Additionally, McDonald missed an easy tackle against Browns running back Dion Lewis and allowed him to slip away for a first down. He also failed to knock down (or intercept) a tipped pass to Browns receiver Greg Little.
So, if you were initially concerned about St. Louis' safeties heading into the season, then you're certainly not feeling any better after Thursday's game.
The safety position could be the team's Achilles' heel in 2013, but as far as the competition for the starting job, the race appears to be over for now.
Although second-year pros Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead have always been the front runners for the running back job, there's still uncertainty at the position.
Add in rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham along with second-year player Terrance Ganaway, there are plenty of possibilities, but no clear leader in the race.
At least that was the case prior to Thursday night, before Richardson pulled ahead by utilizing decisive movements and explosiveness through the gaps.
Richardson carried the ball four times for 24 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and also recorded two receptions for 20 yards.
He had a dropped pass, but that was the only hiccup in what was otherwise a stellar performance.
Pead also ran the ball well after picking up 18 yards on three carries (6.0 yards per carry), but he fumbled on his very first carry. (Fumbling was an issue for Pead a year ago.)
Hopefully, Pead can bounce back with a productive performance against Green Bay next Saturday.
Overall, the running back competition is still too close to call, but Richardson looked sharp against Cleveland, so it has to be his job to lose at this point.
Second-year receiver and former second-round pick Brian Quick has been battling for the No. 1 wideout job against third-year pro Austin Pettis.
Pettis was evidently leading the race as he started in Cleveland with the first-team offense. However, he ended the exhibition with zero receptions and even dropped a pass which hit him directly in the hands.
The coaching staff is aware that Pettis typically has reliable hands, so it's not a major concern for Pettis. What Pettis should be concerned about, on the other hand, is Quick's solid performance with the second-team offense.
Quick had a drop of his own, but he also ran hard, physical routes. The box score shows that he recorded two receptions for 27 yards.
Quick, along with Raymond Radway and rookie Stedman Bailey, was one of the better backup receivers to see field last Thursday.
As the No. 33 pick of the 2012 draft, Quick has sky-high potential. If things begin to click and the light bulb goes off in his head, Pettis could be in trouble.
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