After months of waiting, the NFL season is finally upon us. And while we still have to wait for the stuff that actually counts, preseason games are better than no games. Today at 8 PM ET, August 8th, 2014, our beloved St. Louis Rams take on the New Orleans Saints
Starters and veteran role players rarely play significant minutes during the first games of the preseason. So for those itching to see how Sam Bradford and his crispy new(ish) ACL fare out, y'all most likely have to stand by for at least another week.
But if you're anxiously waiting to see the newbies in action, this is your time. So without further a do, here are five players to watch:
The Rams' defensive line is the most stacked unit on the Rams.Left to right, back and forth, the defensive line in is stacked. Third defensive end William Hayes would be a plus starter on a different team. That's how deep we are at D-Line.
Another sign of how much talent the defensive: last year's starting defensive tackle Kendall Langford might passed up by rookie Aaron Donald by mid season. And that's no dig against Langford – Donald is just that good. There's camp reports stating the former too.
This game will give Donald a chance to translate his practice production over to an actual game. If everything goes accordingly and Aaron does indeed tear shit up, that's scary.
Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins has missed some time in training camp due to injury. He will not be playing in the preseason opener. Second-year corner Brandon McGee has been the one stepping up into Jenkins' slot. It will be interesting how he does as well, but the man to watch is E.J. Gaines.
Gaines has already received a few outside corner reps with both Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson missing time. That's already a good sign for a sixth round rookie. But as far sixth rounders go, E.J. is a gem. He shut down the six-foot-five Mike Evans in college.
If Gaines can display the coverage skills that netted him 34 passes defended in college, he'll definitely be welcomed in a thin secondary.
The wide receiver depth battle is one of the most intense fights for positioning in camp. Early indications show newcomer Kenny Britt, third-year receiver Brain Quick, and last year's first rounder Tavon Austin have the lead on the starting roles. Sophomore pass-catcher Stedman Bailey has also impressed so much that he's still getting reps with the "ones," despite having a four-game suspension to begin the season. The odd man out seems to be speedster Chris Givens.
By all accounts, Givens did not perform up to expectations last season. He reportedly switched up his offseason routine in efforts to progress this season. He even talked the talk. So far, he's only walked the walk on the field with the second team – a far regression from his starting role.
If Givens cannot crack the starting rotation, even with Bailey out for the beginning quarter, it will be truly disappointing for a player that showed much promise as a rookie.
Keep a eye or two on Givens.
While most eyes will be on stud first rounder, Greg Robinson, Barret Jones will be (un)officially making his debut in a Rams uniform.
Well all know Jones spent the entire 2013 season recovering from a Lisfranc injury and adding on bulk. He's healthy now and ready to go. The Rams' depth chart lists Jones at center – though he is versatile enough to play all five positions along the line –so he will be playing with the second unit. Scott Wells – the oft-injured starter – most likely will not be playing, so the first team reps will be given to Tim Barnes.
Back to Jones. Coming out of Alabama, Barrett was highly decorated – Outland Trophy '11 (given to the best interior linman), Jacobs Blocking Trophy '11 (conferance award for best blocker), Consensus All-American '11-'12, and the Rimington Trophy '12 for being the best center. On top of his athletic awards, Jones was also consistently recognized academically – graduating summa cum laude in 2011 with a 4.0 GPA. Jones later earned is masters in 2012 with a 4.0 again.
With all his accolades, many believe Barrett is the heir-apparent at the center position. Beginning on Friday, it is Jones' time to prove his supporters right.
Zac Stacy is cemented in the starting role at running back. The situation behind him is still not dry. Benny Cunningham is listed as the second-string running back. Isaiah Pead is the third. Tre Mason is... fourth?
Mason as the fourth RB is surprising, especially given the fact that Tre mentioned he'd be given every opportunity to win the starting job in camp. We all know it is not logical to think Mason can upset Stacy this season, but he can reasonably win the backup job.
Obviously, there are more than five players to watch on Friday. Second year players looking to make a jump, rookies trying to live up to expectations, veterans trying to recapture their flame, etc. Sound off on the players you're most excited to watch in today's game.