The St. Louis Rams donned pads for the first time this year on Sunday, a closed practice dedicated to special teams. On Monday, the full squad takes to the fields at Rams Park, decked out from helmet to the now-required knee and thigh pads.
Practice starts at 3:30 p.m. Central time, and Monday's session is open to the public. We'll have our usual open thread and Twitter list of fans on the scene. If you're headed out to watch it all, let us know @TurfShowTimes and we'll put you on the list.
In the meantime, here's a short preview of what to watch for now that the hitting has begun.
Running back battle
So it's quite full on hitting at practice, not like it would be during an actual regular season game with tacklers and blockers taking opponents to the ground. However, there's enough going on now that we should start to get a much clearer picture of where things stand with the Rams running game and the handful of backs competing to be the lead horse.
Holding onto the ball is a much different proposition when someone's trying to tackle a runner. No matter how well a guy cuts or explodes through his hole, if he can't hold onto the ball consistently, the liability he brings will keep him on the bench.
The offensive line
I've said before that there might not be a unit more important to the team's success in 2013 than the offense line. That group gets its first real test now, and they have to do it against a defensive front expected to be one of the best groups in the league.
What do the running lanes look like? Are backs finding plenty of light to run toward? And let's not forget about pass blocking. Jake Long is coming off an injury-marred season last year. Is he getting back into his Pro Bowl form? And don't forget about Rodger Saffold. How does he look anchoring the right side now?
The one spot up for grabs on the line is left guard. Right now, Chris Williams is working with the ones. It's hard to see all the action in the trenches, but try scoring how well Williams and the other contenders do.
The defensive line
Remember this bunch? All they did was lead the NFL with 52 sacks last season. Whether or not the stat sheet bulges even more this season is still to be determined, but what we do know is that defensive linemen are poised for a big year.
Michael Brockers is the guy I'm most interested in right now. He got a late start to his rookie season thanks to an ankle injury. Once he got on the field and got his health back, he made for a beastly presence in the middle. He's filled out this season, and the Rams are expecting big things from the second-year player.
Fisher says that Michael Brockers has gained weight, in a good way "he's changed his body"— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) July 28, 2013
Fisher on Rams DT Michael Brockers "we think he can be a dominating player in the front"— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) July 28, 2013
Sam Bradford under pressure
At some point over the course of practice, Bradford is going to see some defenders racing in on him. The Rams quarterback had a 61.6 QB rating when pressured last year, throwing five touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He should be better protected this year.
Really, it's not just being better under pressure you want to see out of the QB. At times, Bradford looked hesitant last season. Even though it's just practice, watch for good habits from the quarterback, decisive, not staring down his man, reading his receivers and putting the ball where it needs to be (like up for Jared Cook to get in the red zone, for one example).
Getting open against the Rams secondary is no easy task. It should be good practice for a group of receivers that struggled against man coverage last season. Chris Givens has looked sharp in the early days of camp. He needs to keep that up. Brian Quick will get a plenty of looks too. Has he learned the finer points of working with a man on him? Then, of course, there are the new guys Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. How do they hold up in their first taste of NFL contact?
We could list just about anything here, but those are the things that jump out to me. What are you looking for at practice now that the hitting has started?