The St. Louis Rams have more than a week of practice under out of the way, four days in pads. It's a long way between here and the start of the regular season, but the team hits a major milestone on Saturday with the annual team scrimmage.
"This actually, for us, from a football standpoint kind of culminates one phase of camp because there'll be a day off on Sunday and then three days later we're going to travel," head coach Jeff Fisher said.
The scrimmage is only one part of a full day event at the Edward Jones Dome. Fans came out in droves, starting in the morning, for the team's annual Fan Fest. But for Fisher and the 90-man roster, Saturday is still a practice session, an important one.
"Obviously, it'll be a full padded practice and we're going to get a lot done," FIsher said. "We're going to have a good special teams session to start with and then we'll compete in the one-on-one drills and the passing drills, and then we'll have some team period with some two-minute. Then, we'll finish with probably a live scrimmage with some of the younger guys."
The scrimmage starts at 12:30 p.m. For more info on Fan Fest, check out the Rams web site.
Now, what to watch for when the Rams take the field ...
We're not going to see the full playbook at this point in time. Nevertheless, this is our first chance to get a visual on what the offense will look like this season. How much are they lining up in three- and four-receiver sets? The Rams lined up with just one running back on 71 percent of their plays last year. They had three or more receivers on the field 57 percent of the time.
Where are players lining up at and with what kind of frequency? What kind of tendencies are they showing with regards to splitting the run and pass?
Block the block
The Rams have a new-look offensive line this season, thanks to the addition of Jake Long. There's also a new left guard now that Chris Williams seems to have the starting spot locked down, for now anyway.
Watch this group very closely. Are they winning matchups against a defensive front that can, without exaggeration, be called one of the best in the league? They're not going to beat that front four on every down, but they should be able to hold their own.
Does the line look like it's in sync? A lot of blown blocks happen because someone misses an assignment. At this point in the season, you'll probably see some of that.
The tackles are interesting in and of themselves. Long is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Does he have the Pro Bowl form back yet? Rodger Saffold is playing on the right side for the first time since the Rams drafted him in 2010. How's he adjusting to it?
The Tavon Austin Show
As if you weren't going to be watching him closely anyway ... Watch for him working out of the backfield. Something else to think about: he's going to be on the field A LOT, keeping defenses guessing, but how much is he on the field and another receiver gets the ball?
Remember the Sam Bradford we saw in the second half of the season last year? That's who want to see again, only better. How does he do with the multi-receiver sets? Is he reading the progressions? Can he make something happen when his primary target is covered up?
The defensive line
This group is going to be good, really, really good. Michael Brockers could be in for a huge breakout this year. He's been the toast of camp so far, so watch him work in the scrimmage. Kendall Langford might be sitting out. He missed practice yesterday, and Jermelle Cudjo is out too. How do the backups look? Matt Conrath was with the ones on Friday, keep an eye on him.
Alec Ogletree used to be a safety. He covered tight ends about as well as any linebacker in the SEC. How much coverage time is he getting today? That will impact what the corners and safeties do in coverage too.
Who's on the field when the Rams bring out the nickel package? Obviously, the corners will be Finnegan, Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, but I'm more curious about the rest of the lineup. Watch the dime package too.
The Rams had five defensive backs on the field for 49 percent of their snaps last year. The nickel package is sort of a 1b to the base defense in today's NFL.
Oh, and don't forget the safeties. T.J. McDonald and Darian Stewart are the starters, how do they look? Stewart had problems missing tackles in 2011. McDonald wasn't considered to be much of a coverage guy. Camp reports say they're doing better in both regards, so let's see that on the field. Passes in the middle of the field were a big problem -- the Rams had the league-worst DVOA there last year -- and that usually falls on the safeties to be in position and standing tall in coverage.
Play action diagnosis
Remember that game against Minnesota when Adrian Peterson just ripped the Rams to shreds? Sorry to bring it up again, but for as good as the defense was, it still struggled against the play action. That has to change this year.
Better safety play will be a big part of that, especially when it comes to diagnosing the play and being in position. The linebackers are important here too. Dunbar and Ogletree are athletic guys who have the quickness and speed to work against misdirection plays. Watch them closely.
We'll have lots more throughout the day, so stay tuned.