It's gametime. Is it Week 1 of the regular season? No. Does it mean much in the full scope of Ram relevance? Not really. Does it give us a chance to break down some of the more intriguing storylines of the off- and preseason while getting to watch football? Yes. Yes, it does.
Well, I have been going position by position in a lot of my breakdowns, but I'm gonna shake it up this time. Let's break down some of the most pressing issues:
- Of course, the most pressing issue facing the Rams is the Steven Jackson saga. The first preseason game is Saturday, August 9th. Will we have wrapped this up by then? Extremely doubtful. Will this overshadow the game for ESPN (read: the national sports media)? Certainly. Is there anything that we can say that could be possible understood as either enlightening or original on the situation? No. Are we still going to listen with our hand to our ear until we hear the words "Steven Jackson"? Of course.
- Injuries, injuries, injuries. And Injuries. Personal anecdote: my best friend (and soon to be my best man at my wedding) is a Cowboys fan. It's painful to admit, but it allows for great football debates. Plus, since the Cowboys can't win playoff games, it's lessens the pain of recent Rams history. Anyway, about 3 years ago, we had a debate about injuries in the NFL. I argued that the most pressing factor that lasts in the NFL is injuries. Trent Green got hurt and Kurt Warner ended up leading our greatest era as a franchise in modern football. Tom Brady? Only got a chance because Drew Bledsoe got hurt. None of this mattered to him... until last year. When the Rams finished the 2007 season having started 13 different linemen during a 3-13 season, he finally admitted not only the impact of injuries, but the random timing and severity. The only way (IMO, or in my opinion for those of you who are yet to grasp geekspeak) to proactively deal with injuries which every team in the NFL has to deal with every season is depth. NFL teams have to have depth for two reasons: (1) stamina, keeping veteran and overused players fresh, but more importantly (2) as a precaution in the case of injury. How many teams have gone from contenders to useless in a single play? (see: 2005 wild card playoffs Cincinatti vs. Pittsburgh Carson Palmer) The reality is, injuries happen. Those teams that are best prepared to deal with them and are the luckiest are often the teams that have successful seasons. Please, please, don't let anything crazy happen to the Rams this preseason. (Editorial note: that last sentence was a prayer to God, fellow Rams fans, and anyone else who has any effect on injuries to this team. In that order.) Ok, enough, Positions:
QB: Right now, the talk is on "The Big" Gradkowski (I told you there would be more in the camp preview here) vs. Brock "The Crock" Berlin. I doubt a single preseason game will have much impact on this, but it's worth noting. Why? I'm not sure. Feel free to tell me. Keep an eye out for: Bruce Gradkowski. His experience should show throughout the preseason and cement him as the 3rd QB.
RB: I don't know if you've heard, but there's this guy named Steven Jackson. Et cetera. VanRam posted a running back brief here that lays it down pretty succinctly. Keep an eye out for: Lance Ball who could solidify his spot on the team.
WR: Our own BruinFanBaby dropped a recent WR roundup here. A lot going on in this corps that hasn't been covered. I won't even attempt it. Keep an eye out for: Keenan Burton. Wtih Avery watching, sill Burton step up and press for a higher spot in the depth chart? Keep an eye out for: Burton. See above.
TE: McMichael, Becht, and Klopfenstein are safe, which only leave me one option. Keep an eye out for: Anthony Becht. He was brought in to block; I'm eager to see it. Plus Cleaver is hot on Klopfenstein's heels, making for soe TE drama.
OL: Yikes. So much going on here. Um, yeah. Keep an eye out for: Jacob Bell. Who knows how much playing time he'll see, but an addition as significant as this warrants attention. Of course any playing time Orlando Pace gets should grab your eye too.
DL: So many rookies (see VanRam's post here) not to mention the ends, Little and Long, as well as Carriker. Has anybody else noticed that Adam Carriker hasn't gotten a word in camp coverage? Keep an eye out for: Adam Carriker to make sure he's alive. Seriously, watch for the rookie DT battle between Vernon Bryant, Willie Williams, and Henry Smith.
LB: With Magro and Riley battling for a rookie spot, the eyes should be on QC... Keep an eye out for: Quentin Culberson. It looks like QC could take over the strong side liinebacker spot. A good preseason could cement that.
CB: I have so much hope for this unit, I really do. I think the youth and talent could gel and give us a fully capable secondary in a year or two anchored around Tye Hill, Fakhir Brown, and Jonathan Wade, which means keep an eye on: Jonathan Wade. He is the lynchpin for the corners. He'll face some confusing matchups throughout the season. If he struggles in the preseason against some jokers, it means trouble. If not, then just keep keeping your eye on him.
S: Wow. Every time I look at this group I wonder what's going on. With so many quality safeties coming in to the league over the last 3 years, I wonder who might end up moving to St. Louis. In any case, keep an eye on: Todd Johnson. The former U of Florida grad should play a pivotal part in the secondary this year. He should get serious reps at the back throughout the preseason.
Oh and if you missed the heat at the pre-game practice, you can read ESPN's rundown here.