Could it be? Is it really true? Yes, football has finally returned! It all began Saturday night, when six more legends were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was as an emotional and compelling enshrinement ceremony that I can remember. Chris Doleman was sincere, Curtis Martin was honest and Willie Roaf's father was tearful as all those in attendance looked on in admiration. Few drove home from Canton that evening with a dry eye.
What happened the following night seemed to many as long overdue as Jack Butler's induction. For the first time since February 5, fans of America's game again sat on the edge of their seats for real, competitive football. No, I'm not including the Pro Bowl, and I don't care that the final outcome ultimately didn't matter. As the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints took the field, it marked the very beginning of the countdown to the regular season, and they didn't disappoint. That is, unless you're a Cardinals fan..
Incumbent starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb did nothing to appease his fan base or his coaching staff. After watching Drew Brees almost effortlessly drive down the field for the game's first score, Kolb struggled to get his offense in rhythm, throwing an interception with his very first pass. Matters only got worse on the next drive, when he was forced to make a dump-off throw while under duress in his own end zone. Kolb connected to his fullback, but payed the price when he was taken down hard onto his shoulder. He then left the game with a rib contusion, once again handing the reins over to backup John Skelton, who moved the ball with much more success.
The Cards' offense improved as the game wore on - and talent of competition decreased - but they fell short in the closing minutes as Ryan Lindley's would-be game-tying touchdown pass was picked off at the goal line. New Orleans held on for a 17 - 10 victory to kick off the next four weeks of pre season. Although the stat sheet shows nearly 700 combined yards, this was largely an on-and-off defensive bout with four turnovers and constant pressure on the quarterbacks. For our Mizzou fan readers, Chase Daniel nearly stole the show, going 15 of 20 for 201 yards with a TD and an INT.
Now, if you're interested, how about some Rams talk?
Rams display strengths, weaknesses - The Post Dispatch's Jeff Gordon weighs in with some of his notes and observations of Saturday's scrimmage and fan appreciate day. For the most part, Gordon liked what he saw, but reminds us that the team - which is young and relatively inexperienced - still needs a lot of work. As has been reiterated time and again, the offensive side of the ball received the brunt of the negativity. Chris Long, Robert Quinn and the new pair of defensive tackles continued to dismantle the o-line; however, both left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Scott Wells were held out of action with injuries. The Rams' front four is good, but let's just hope that they're that good, and Sam Bradford doesn't resemble a tackling dummy by mid-season. Rookie running backs, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson still "have much to prove."
Fisher makes protecting Bradford top priority - When Jeff Fisher opted to join St. Louis instead of Miami, he mentioned several crucial factors that led to his decision. One of those said reasons was the established franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, so naturally it would be his No. 1 concern to keep the former AP Rookie of the Year healthy and upright. After watching firsthand while with the Titans what happened to David Carr in Houston, he should already understand the effects of "shell-shocking" a quarterback. Fans and the coaching staff alike are already well aware of the team's shortage of talent along the offensive line, so what is the next option? Scale back the offense and run the ball, which is exactly what Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer intend to do. Consider this:
• During Fisher's 16 full seasons (1995-2010) coaching the Tennessee Titans, only two teams had more rushing attempts. Fisher's offense averaged 30 a game.
• Over the 16 seasons, the Titans had the NFL's fourth-lowest sack rate, giving up a sack on 5.5 percent of their passing attempts.
Jeff Fisher: Dunbar "just a perfect fit" - It's hard to fill a void when you don't make an attempt to do so. Such is a harsh reality that the Rams franchise has learned after failing to address the outside linebacker positions for years. Enter Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a free agent acquisition from the Saints who has already made a strong impression on the new coaching staff. Set to take over the weakside spot, he will assume a lot of coverage responsibility, taking some weight from James Laurinaitis' shoulders. Aside from having decent size and speed, and being relatively young (27), Fisher states that one of Dunbar's most important qualities is already knowing the system.
Gibson shines in scrimmage - Call him a gym class hero. Call him a workout warrior. It doesn't matter what you call him; Brandon Gibson is going to be the Rams' best wide receiver ... in practice. (Insert unfunny Allen Iverson reference here) As was also the case last year, he has been a standout in the early days of training camp. Whether his production carries over to September and beyond remains to be seen. Gibson has always shown flashes of potential and upside, but has also appeared to suffer from unfortunate cases of the "dropsies" and stage fright in big situations. In their third year together, though, he and Sam Bradford may be forming a rapport. Good for him - and the team - if his strong performances continue; just take them with a grain of salt until they actually matter.
Zuerlein makes strong first impression - Greg Zuerlein, deservedly otherwise known as "Greg the Leg," has been lighting up the imaginary scoreboard since day one of camp. The Rams caught fans by surprise when they used their sixth-round selection on a kicker - subsequently cutting ties with veteran Josh Brown - but "Gee-zee" has appeared every bit worth the late pick. He has even been turning the heads of notable players, such as Steven Jackson and Bradford, delivering field goals in excess of 60-yards away with ease. The Rams haven't had a clutch and "Money" place kicker since Jeff Wilkins retired in 2007, and Zuerlein looks to have the potential to reinstate that role. Rookie of the year candidate? No, but still.
How about a preseason preview? Former coach Brian Billick and Taylor Jones make their opinions known. Agree? Disagree? Indifferent? Let us know.