St. Louis Rams: 5 Things To Watch in Tonight's Rams vs. Colts Game
With the first preseason game only a few hours away, there is plenty to be excited about if you're a Rams fan.
The team is considered by many experts to be the favorite in the NFC West and following an exciting 2010 season that ended all too soon, fans have been yearning to see their Rams suit up again.
While the Rams have improved immensely over the past 12 or so months, there are still some lingering questions. With a new offensive coordinator in place, a few new names along the starting lineup and some players who should be in line to make plenty of progress from last season to this season, we have a lot to watch for tonight.
Of all those things, here are the five most important aspects to focus on tonight.
1. Will Bradley Fletcher Continue His Progress as the No. 2 Cornerback?
Bradley Fletcher was a very pleasant surprise in 2010, turning into a fairly reliable cornerback behind only Ron Bartell. Injuries have hampered his progress at times in the past, but this should be the year he begins to solidify himself as a solid corner in the NFL.
Tonight, he will be tested immediately when he squares off against a variation of dangerous Indianapolis Colts' receivers. Peyton Manning may not be the one throwing to them in the game, but it will be a test regardless.
If Fletcher can develop into an all-around solid cornerback, it will make the Rams defense that much better.
2. How Will the Trio of Backup Running Backs Perform?
The Rams will have three running backs contending for the two backup spots all preseason long. While it is likely that Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood will end up being the ones carrying the load when Steven Jackson need a breather, Keith Toston is also in the mix.
Cadillac Williams brings to the table plenty of strengths. He can catch passes, pass block, make effective carries and do plenty of little things that coaches love. Heading into the preseason, he is the favorite to win the primary backup role, and he should receive plenty of playing time tonight.
Jerious Norwood brings a new element to the Rams' backfield—speed. The change of pace and home-run ability makes him an attractive target for the third-string position.
However, he is coming off a knee injury that limited him to just two games last season, so it's possible that the Rams take it easy and not give him much playing time in the game tonight. He could see time as a return-man for the first half, but expect the Rams to be somewhat cautious here in the beginning.
Then you have Keith Toston, the Rams' third-string running back last season who didn't receive much of a chance to make an impact. He averaged a mere 2.8 ypc, but he has proved to be very versatile, seeing time as a return man and on the kickoff team. In order to stay on the 53-man roster however, Toston will need to do plenty of impressing this preseason, but he should receive plenty of opportunity to do just that tonight.
Keep an eye on the three running backs; this position battle could get interesting.
3. The Linebacker Battle
The most wide-open position battle this preseason will be at the OLB positions. Neither the strong-side nor weak-side positions have a set starter, and the Rams have plenty of names fighting to fill both roles.
I'd imagine that tonight's starters will be Zac Diles at WLB, Josh Hull at MLB and Na'il Diggs at SLB. Recently-signed Ben Leber will be the favorite to start at SLB once the regular season starts, but with only a couple practice sessions under his belt, its hard to imagine the Rams would put him in the starting lineup immediately.
MLB James Laurinaitis will obviously be the starter in the middle once he returns from a pectoral injury he suffered earlier in the week, but the Rams should be in no hurry to get him back in the lineup anytime soon.
Last season, the Rams were badly hindered by bad outside linebacker play, so keep a focus on whether the Rams new signees (Brady Poppinga, Leber, Diles,) step up, or if there are any improvements from players such as Josh Hull, Na'il Diggs and others that were already with the team.
4. Wide Receiver Performance
Let's just say the Rams carry seven wide receivers on the 53-man roster.
The locks for the roster have to be Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker and Donnie Avery.
Players where it is really hard to imagine any scenario where the Rams part with them: Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis.
That's seven players right there, meaning guys like Mardy Gilyard, Joe West, Greg Mathews, Dominique Curry and others are likely going to be left out in the cold. And if that doesn't make things interesting enough, there is always this tweet from ESPN's John Clayton a couple days ago:
WR MarkClayton worked out for the Rams Wednesday, indicating he's ready to re-sign with the team. Clayton is expected back with the team.
What does the team do, carry eight receivers? Should they be forced to make quick judgement of one of their draft picks or part ways with Danario Alexander—a guy who has shown to have an immense amount of potential?
Do they part ways with Brandon Gibson, a guy who has quietly been one of the better targets for Rams quarterbacks over the past couple seasons? Or perhaps, they should finally give up on Donnie Avery ever living up to his lofty expectations?
Although the linebacker battle is likely the most important for the team's future, the receiver battle will without a doubt be the most intense. It all begins tonight. Be ready.
5. How Does QB Sam Bradford Perform in McDaniels' Offense?
The name Sam Bradford brings a smile to just about every Rams fans' face. Last year, he showed tremendous leadership, poise and moxie as the Rams' quarterback and went on to break a few rookie passing records.
So with Josh McDaniels' spread offense being brought to the St. Louis Rams, there is plenty to be excited about. Bradford excelled in the spread in college, even managing to pick up a Heisman Trophy during his time in Oklahoma's spread. He possesses the smarts to make quick reads and the arm to make just about every throw McDaniels will ask him to make.
However, it will be interesting to see how much of a grasp of the offense Bradford has with just a few weeks of practicing with McDaniels under his belt. He will likely struggle with terminology, and at times, you will likely see some confusion on who is running which route.
If you see some struggles tonight Rams fans, don't panic, it is all part of the learning process. Although, it will be exciting to see how much of the system Bradford has grasped in such a short amount of time.
Just a few more hours until kickoff Rams fans, it is time to get excited.
FOOTBALL IS BACK!