Football week is here.
On Friday, the New Orleans Saints come to St. Louis to open the Rams' preseason schedule. Here are a couple of things weighing on my mind to keep an eye on:
Injuries...old and new
As always, injuries are the part of the preseason that have the most impact on the following season. Whether it's the Bills losing LB Kiko Alonso, the 49ers losing RB Kendall Hunter and DT Glenn Dorsey, or the Cowboys losing LB Sean Lee, some teams have already seen their 2014 season change drastically before even starting their preseason slate. So of course, we'll need to crazy glue some fingers crossed on the Rams' part to keep the key starters on board for week one.
It's not just the extreme severe injuries though. The preseason is a chance for the younger players in that space between veteran status and their rookie years to get re-accustomed to the #grind of the NFL season and acclimate to a new set of coaches and systems. If Tavon Austin is feeling more confident in his grasp of the playbook this go round, getting him the reps to prove it (to himself and, sure, to the fans too) would be swell. TJ McDonald missed a bunch of time last year, to say nothing of he and the rest of the second and third year guys undergoing another change at the top of the defensive coaching hierarchy. And of course, if anyone's expected to roll over some bumps in the learning curve of the NFL, it's the rookie class. The less time they lose to nagging injuries that might see them watching a preseason game's 2nd half rather than playing in it, the better.
There's also the matter of players coming back from injury, say a certain quarterback that, oh I dunno, might have a slight impact on the Rams' fortunes in 2014. Assessing how much to play Sam Bradford, and others coming off the mend, is a key decision HC Jeff Fisher & Co. will be making throughout the next month.
Depth chart battles
This comes in to play later on in the preseason than for Friday as the staff begins making the more difficult choices regarding roster cuts, but the second and third teams matter. Isaiah Pead is still on this team. Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer fighting for a tight end spot (seemingly) might be the most interesting battle of camp. The battle for the final five spots or so of the defense (and thus special teams) will be epic.
The rises and falls that come with the on-field performances during games matter, and we'll be unable to avoid taking note of those. But practices matter too. I'll be looking at the two open practices today and tomorrow (with eyes and ears out for anything from Thursday's closed practice) to see how things are shaping up for the back half of the roster, of which we'll see plenty on Friday night.
Systems and schemes
The most interesting narrative regarding the 2014 Rams to me right now? How Gregg Williams affects what should be one of the better defenses in the league and easily one of the best fronts. When I see tweets like this from CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora...
Gregg Williams' influence is all over this Rams defense. Playing much faster. Pre-snap looks to deceive. Constantly going for the ball.— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) August 1, 2014
...I get interested. Very much so. Seeing how Williams wants to implement different blitz packages, the Cushion of Death™ and anything might be the most important observable coaching aspect of the preseason.
What are you keeping tabs on as we near the beginning of Rams football, 2014?