Steve Spagnuolo begins his third season as head coach of the Rams tonight, and for the first time in his tenure here, expectations are considerably higher. A narrow loss for the division crown, the Offensive Rookie of the Year under center, a name brand offensive coordinator with a magic touch for QBs and a new owner unwilling to accept a culture of losing...all of it raises the bar.
Do temper those expectations a bit tonight.
Don't expect to see Swiss watch precision after the lockout erased the normal offseason routines. New faces dot the roster, many of them will start in place of the incumbents dealing with minor injuries. At linebacker, Josh Hull will start in place of James Laurinaitis. Justin King starts in place of Ron Bartell. On the outside, if yesterday's practice was any indication, the new free agent additions might not even start on the outside tonight. Ben Leber will not be on the field.
Sam Bradford and the first team offense will play one or two series, ideally one good scoring drive, with a soft cap of 15 plays. Judging preseason success should never be left to the scoreboard, especially in week one, but there are a few things to watch out for among the starting units.
- How does Bradford look in a new system? Is he making his reads? Does he seem to grasp what little of the playbook they'll use in 12-15 plays?
- Almost everyone is watching the receiver race, and coaches will have to evaluate every snap as 12 players look to fit into 6 spots. Are early training camp standouts like Brandon Gibson and Lance Kendricks still looking strong against live hitting? Are guys getting into their routes; are they where they're supposed to be?
- Blocking should be a show in and of itself. How does the first team offensive line look? Don't expect perfection tonight, but they should be fairly solid with 4 of 5 returning starters.
- How about the pass rush? It won't be as aggressive as it would be for a regular season game, but are they getting penetration? Can they close down the outside of the field?
- Linebackers in Spagnuolo's system are all about the assignment. Do they know where they're supposed to be? Will the defensive line give them more room to work and make plays?
- Don't forget the secondary. How are they tracking opposing receiver? Run support looking good?
Once the backups get in the game, the focus is much more on individual performances as players try to make the final roster.
UPDATE: Tonight's inactives for the Rams are: WRs Avery, Salas, CBs Bartell, Murphy, Johnson, LB Laurinaitis, TE Hoomanawanui and DE Hall.
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Also, free agent CB Rod Hood visited the Rams on Thursday.