Back to square one.
Usually I write something goofy here just to fill space before getting to the real preview, but since the numbers show we have a ton of new readers this year compared to previous seasons, I'm just going to break down how a game weekend will play out here at TST. It starts here, with the preview.
This is pretty much an open thread before gameday to throw out all your concerns and hopes leading up to the morning where you wake up and you realize it's game day. The conversations in here can get off course, but even moreso in the game threads. On gameday, it starts with the pre-game thread. These are good places to talk up fantasy football and any late-breaking Rams news. If we're playing a 3pm game, there's usually some general NFL observations thrown in there as well.
For the newest of the newest of the new, the game thread is where everyone yaks it up while we're watching the game. Hyped up when Steven Jackson plows through a linebacker? Pissed off at Pat Shurmur for calling such a predictable play? You'll hear about it in the game thread. Check one out at your favorite baseball team's SBN community to see what a game thread's like and how out of control they can get.
After the game's done, there's all kinds of posts to come out. The standard one is the immediate reaction thread where we celebrate victory, but more often than not, share our sorrow and anger. Then comes Overreaction Monday where I throw out grades for every unit and overreact to the previous day's events.
For Tuesday through Thursday, it's all general analysis, injury updates, crying, yelling, screaming, pushing and shoving and spitting. By Friday, it's time to reload. So to get it started, this is how I come at game day for the previews.
Breakdown after the fold.
St. Louis Rams, 0-0, t-1st - NFC West
Minnesota Vikings, 0-0, t-1st - NFC North
Like always, the statistical portion won't come until the regular season, but for now, even a blank placeholder gets me excited for football.
STL pass - N/A
MIN pass D - N/A
Well, here we go. Another Rams season about to kick off, but this year, the fortunes of the team already look better and they haven't even taken a snap against an NFL team. If you don't know why, you're not reading this. This game and the season as a whole will be taken over by Sam Bradford. The questions are when and how.
VTRamsFan passed along Brian Stull's report that Feeley will start for about 10 snaps (which is misleading. It's either one or two series. The AP quoted Spags as saying it would be 12-14.) at which point he will give way to Bradford, and the Ed will explode with anticipation. It will be a highly analyzed, highly scrutinized, highly every-ized performance that will either have Rams fans rejoicing at the arrival of the savior of our woeful franchise or biting our lips telling ourselves its just the preseason. Either way, it's not as big a deal as we'll likely make it out to be. Strangely, the value of the preseason for the passing game is as much about Bradford's development as it is for sorting out the platoon-size element of wide receivers the Rams are dealing with.
We know Donnie Avery will be in the mix, and we'll all be glad to see a healthy Laurent Robinson back on the field. After that, however, there's a lot of questions to be answered. How productive can Danny Amendola be? Is Keenan Burton going to add enough technical expertise to take advantage of his athleticism? Will Mardy Gilyard's agility translate to the NFL level and can his body take the toll? Was Brandon Gibson just someone who got an opportunity and made the most of it early on only to fade into obscurity? And between Brooks Foster, Dominique Curry, Brandon McRae and Jordan Kent, who will survive the cuts? That's a lot of questions to try to answer at the same time you're trying to get whichever group you select to make the regular season gel with your $50 franchise QB. And that ignores any questions about Avery and Robinson.
On the Vikings side, this is a chance to get their younger cornerbacks some necessary experience. 2010 second rounder Chris Cook (a very large CB out of Virginia) and their 2009 3rd round CB Asher Allen should see significant field time. Beyond that, let's be honest - it's the Vikings' scrubs and I sure as hell don't follow them closely enough. Still, any separation among the wide receivers should solidify the depth chart beyond Robinson and Avery, which can only mean good things for Sam.
STL run - N/A
MIN run D - N/A
Knowing that Steven Jackson likely won't play (and if he does, it will only be for one series), this is a battle for the backup position. Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya and undrafted rookie Keith Toston are all looking to work their way into the second spot on the depth chart; at this point, it would seem from traditional media reporting that Ogbonnaya has the early lead, but Darby has experience and Toston is a bit quicker and shiftier than both of them, so don't put all your baskets in one egg...
Maybe the most important factor that could identify who will earn the backup spot is their pass blocking. With so much money (and fandom) tied up in Sam Bradford, getting as much protection out of your back in passing situations will be crucial.
As for Minnesota, their linebackers are hard workers, though not overflowing with natural talent. But skipping the starters, there are definitely some names to watch in purple at the second level. Jasper Brinkley is a MASSIVE MLB who factored heavily into the Vikings' playoff run late last season. And keep an eye out for Nate Triplett, the Vikes' 5th rounder from this year's draft. He's a former Minnesota Golden Gopher, so you know he's popular among the Viking faithful; if he can make any notable plays in the preseason, he''ll be an easy fan favorite.
STL O-line - N/A
MIN D-line - N/A
Well, if anyone holds the well-being of Sam Bradford in their hands, it's the offensive line. Scary thought, seeing as these guys haven't played with any positional consistency all offseason. There's something to be said for versatility, sure. But there's something else to be said for positional mastery and experience and muscle memory and... yeah, you got it. Getting these guys out there, especially Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold, is absolutely vital to the Rams' chances at a successful season. Tomorrow night is just a start.
As for the Vikings' D-line depth, Rams fans will recognize Jimmy Kennedy when he comes in as a rotation DT. But look out for two defensive ends that could trouble Rams tackles: rookie Everson Griffen and fourth-year Brian Robison. Griffen has a great skill set for the position, but wasn't the hardest worker at USC on the field. As for Robison, after a quiet career at UT, he's quietly put together impressive numbers in small samples in Minnesota. Playing behind Jared Allen, Robison has racked up 11.5 sacks in his first three seasons in limited time. He could push for a larger role in 2010 if he has a strong preseason.
MIN pass - N/A
STL pass D - N/A
This is going to be awkward. Seeing the first team Viking offense come out on the field without Brett Favre or Percy Harvin (whose migraines are giving some Viking fans migraines) isn't what they'll bring out in 2010, but hey, it's preseason. There's not much on the depth chart beyond Harvin and Sidney Rice, but as the Vikings showed last year, with Favre at the helm that's plenty. As for tomorrow night, well, there's no excuse for the secondary.
The Rams cornerback situation is yet another unit without any certainty. Ron Bartell has another chance to prove he can be a reliable #1 CB in the NFL, something he didn't do at all last year. Bradley Fletcher is coming off of a horrible knee injury that derailed what was turning into a very successful rookie season. Jerome Murphy is a physical talent, but leaning on third round rookies is asking a lot.
Beyond those three, you have experience in Kevin Dockery and Quincy Butler and youth in Justin King (who despite entering his third NFL season is still just 23) and Marquis Johnson, the third corner on Alabama's national championship team last year. It's going to be a battle for time, but IMO, either Dockery or Johnson will earn the nickel spot. Regardless, it's an interesting storyline for the preseason to monitor.
MIN run - N/A
STL run D - N/A
Toby Gerhart rides into the NFL on a wave of media love for being a stat factory, but moreso for being a white running back. It is what it is. Backing up Adrian Peterson, Gerhart won't be needed in too many crucial situations in 2010, but if he can prove himself to be a capable third down or goalline back, Minnesota will have secured the services of a very valuable talent.
As for the Rams' linebackers, there's battles to be fought on both sides of James Laurinaitis. Larry Grant pulled first team duties on the weakside in camp, but the team traded Alex Barron for Bobby Carpenter for a reason. If the staff thinks he can be a useful 4-3 OLB, he'll have to start showing signs of that usefulness in the preseason to ensure he doesn't slide down the depth chart. At the Sam, it's a contest between veteran Na'il Diggs and yeoman David Vobora who has gone from Mr. Irrelevant to Mr. Technique. A sure tackler who plays with heart, Vobora has outplayed teammates drafted well higher than he was, proving that often, you need more than talent just to make it. This first contest should be a good gauge of both who the coaches think is leading those two races and what kind of linebacking groupings we should expect to see once the regular season starts.
MIN O-line - N/A
STL D-line - N/A
If there's a matchup that would do Rams fans well to perform at a high level tomorrow, it's this one. Minnesota's starting line has skilled technicians on the left side and maulers on the right side led by Phil Loadholt. It's worth noting, Artis Hicks is no longer a Viking; I only mention this since the last time we saw Hicks, he was taking Gary Gibson out for the season. Hopefully, we won't see anything like that from either team tomorrow; that's low, low BS.
In any case, it's 2010. It's a new year. It's a new defensive line... well, not really. Chris Long still occupies the premier pass rushing spot, while the other side looks like James Hall's spot to lose, but there's a trio of rookie DEs who will be hungry to earn a spot on the roster starting tomorrow night. Rams fans are likely already well aware of George Selvie, but it's worth remembering Selvie was drafted after Hall Davis and Eugene Sims, so expect them to factor tomorrow as well.
At the tackle spot, there's plenty to sort out. Does Fred Robbins have another season left in him? Are Clifton Ryan and Darell Scott still developing, or have they plateaued? And how much more can this staff milk out of Gary Gibson (ignoring the fact he's coming off of a serious knee injury)? If there's a duo who will be literally playing to save their jobs, it's Jermelle Cudjo and Ernest "E.J." Reid. Honestly, though, if either of those end up carrying any part of this team in the regular season, we're in trouble.
1.) "Now he feel he undefeated, he mean it. Nothing to lose, tattooed around his gun wound. Everything to gain, embedded in his brain." - ****** Bleed
The Rams need a serious reversal of course this year. After winning just six games from 2007-09, there's a risk of mentally feeding into the traditional media's assessment of the franchise. We deride authors who write pieces that reflect the fact they haven't watched the Rams often if at all, but the truth is they're basing their assessments or predictions off the bottom line: wins. We need to approach every week with confidence that we can beat any team in the NFL. It's hard to see it that way right now as fans, but as players, you have to be able to look across the line and believe you can beat those 11 guys.
2.) "Now the year's new. I lay my game flat. I want my spot back, take two." - Long Kiss Goodnight:
The last half decade? It's over. 1-15? It happened. Marc Bulger, Alex Barron and Richie Incognito? They're not Rams. Billy Devaney ascended to the GM spot ready to make a full break from the Rams' mid-decade failures. It's been made. And whether you're a Rams fan or a fan of any other team, here's the reality - it's done, so get over it. The 2010 Rams aren't the last entry of the previous era; they're the first entry of the Sam Bradford era. Get ready.
3.) "Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns..." - Kick in the Door
Sure, this is pretty much the same as #2, but it bears repeating - parity exists in the NFL. The turnover of franchises from success to failure happens to everyone. Hell, it happened to us. In a decade, we went from Super Bowl Champions to the 1-win basement. The things that make a winning team a winning team don't happen in a week; hell, they don't even happen in a season. The Saints wouldn't have won the Super Bowl last year had Drew Brees not spent four years with the Saints preparing with his receivers to run a system in which defenses couldn't know to which receiver, or running back, the ball was going. People always point to Kurt Warner as the lone savior who single-handedly ushered the Rams to the top of the league. The reality is, the Rams' defense was quietly improving in the late nineties to the point where it was one of the most aggressive quick-strike defensive schemes in the nation.
It's not going to happen overnight, and it's going to take much more than Sam Bradford, but this team is going to improve. We'll win more than one game this season. We'll have faith restored in the future of the franchise. But just as important for TSTers, we'll have a place to balance the highs and lows, to share the pessimism and optimism, to throw out a couple "What the f***!"s to go with some "F*** YEAH!"s. This is going to be a fun season. We sure as hell deserve it.
Go Rams. Holler.