Should I be excited about the St. Louis Rams wrapping up the preseason with a perfect 4-0 record? It seems more ominous than anything. The truth is likely, hopefully far more mundane: preseason football. August/early September skepticism aside, I feel pretty good about where the Rams are headed into the 2011 season.
Sam Bradford looks primed for the regular season. He was nearly flawless in a quarter's worth of work. The were some sync issues, but nothing alarming. I hope you like play action passes, screens and running the football, because those have been among the most productive and the overwhelming majority of what the Rams' starting offense has used in the preseason so far. There's a reason for that, not the least of which being that those plays work. Few coaches roll out the majority of their playbook in preseason play, and Josh McDaniels looks no different. Establishing those three staples of the offense makes using the other plays that much more effective.
On defense, Flajole seems to have his men focused and ready to play. Even the younger players seem to have a good grasp on the system and their roles within it, a key for Spagnuolo's defenses. Coverage has been particularly strong in preseason play. Combine that with improvement at outside linebacker and a front four playing stronger and faster than it did last year...get excited. In fact, the defensive line might be the deepest position on the entire team. George Selvie played well in relief of an injured James Hall (a minor back tweak). Add in the inspired play of Eugene Sims, first-round pick Robert Quinn and the admirable consistency of C.J. Ah You to complete the picture. They might have to think about keeping six defensive ends.
Speaking of roster decisions...
More goes into finalizing the depth chart than the fourth and final preseason game, obviously. Some of the more interesting position battles did bubble to the surface tonight, offering a few last data points for the coaches.
Might as well start with the big one, huh? Donnie Avery showed the kind of speed and moves that we missed last year. Trade bait? I'd have a hard time cutting him at this point, if I were the coaches...which I'm obviously not. Does Mardy Gilyard understand the concept of last chance? A stinker outing for a guy who really needed to finish the preseason on a high note. Muffed returns won't do him any favors. He finally flashed a little of his potential on two catches in the fourth quarter. For me, that does not make up for the all around mediocre play with so much on the line. A similar story for Danario Alexander tonight. He was blah except for a 43-yard catch up the sidelines, which is exactly the kind of thing he could do so well. It would be hard to justify a roster spot waiting for something that seems to happen once in a blue moon.
Like I said above, the deepest position on the team right now. Spagnuolo and Flajole will have to weigh keeping six of these guys at the expense of other positions.
Cadillac Williams has the second spot locked down. Based on what the front office has suggested, Jerious Norwood is safe too, and might even be the kick returner. Tough break for Keith Toston.
I'd say Ben Guidugli has a place on the practice squad, especially with Michael Hoomanawanui's health so iffy. I liked what I saw from Fendi Onobun, but was not particularly impressed with him overall.
Jabara Williams will not be overlooked. Zac Diles might be the odd man out, though I don't think he had a terrible game. He just can't seem to separate himself in a crowded field.
At this point, if a player can walk, they will make the team at cornerback. Ok, that's slight overstatement. The UDFAs remaining on the roster look decidedly "meh." Justin King had a good game though, but he was safe to start the night. Still, King needed to reassure coaches that he can be counted on as a regular contributor and a backup.
Yeah, I said it. I can see why Pat Shurmur and Steve Spagnuolo liked Feeley so much as a backup QB: all he does is dink and dunk. If you thought there could be dink and dunk passing with less flair, you were wrong. Ultimately, A.J. Feeley probably has the second QB job locked up as an experienced veteran. However, I fully expect a clamoring for Thaddeus Lewis to have the job. Yes, he played against scrubs on a team filled with them, but between this year and last, he refuses to be ignored. More on this tomorrow.
The player that will surprise you this year: Lance Kendricks. This kid can play. He's definitely the "V-Factor" for the Rams this year. Joking aside, he looks poised for the big time with Sam Bradford. Preseason caveat applies, but he Kendricks recorded a touchdown in three of four preseason games.
The lockout, preseason football...next Sunday can't get here soon enough.