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Thread: Game On
By Howard Balzer
Saturday, August 09, 2008
NASHVILLE -- OK, so it’s “only” a preseason game. However, as many coaches have often said, “It might not count, but it sure matters.”
That’s certainly the way players competing for jobs approach it. After two weeks of training camp, putting on game uniforms and playing in a stadium is the clear signal that the regular season isn’t far away.
For the Rams and Titans tonight at LP Field, it will be somewhat different because of the two days of practices the teams had earlier this week. But it still is “a game,” and players know coaches will be evaluating every play.
Before training camp, coach Scott Linehan said he was considering playing the first unit more than he has in the past. Asked Wednesday about the starters for tonight, Linehan said, “We played them a significant amount this week and they’ll play a significant amount for preseason game No. 1. But I won’t put a specific number of plays on it.”
Quarterback Marc Bulger expects to play the first two possessions, depending on how long they last. It’s possible backup Trent Green won’t play because Linehan wants to see Brock Berlin and Bruce Gradkowski play as much as possible.
Here then is a position-by-position look at what to watch tonight. Game time is 7 p.m. on Fox2.
RUNNING BACKS: It is hoped Antonio Pittman will be able to play a lot, despite a bruised thigh suffered in practice against Tennessee. Brian Leonard and Travis Minor should get plenty of touches, and coaches want to see what rookie Lance Ball (No. 44) can do in a game situation. Keep an eye on fullbacks Dan Kreider (No. 38) and rookie Russ Weil (No. 36). Kreider has the experience, but Weil has shown the ability to be a thumper. He blocked for Rashard Mendenhall at Illinois.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Torry Holt likely won’t play much, but it will be notable to see who will be the third receiver when he and Drew Bennett are on the field. Dante Hall was featured frequently in practice this week, and he might have the inside track on the No. 3 spot for now. Rookie Keenan Burton (No. 14) should see plenty of action at a position where there is intense competition. Dane Looker can’t be overlooked, while Reche Caldwell (No. 86) has experience in Al Saunders’ system.
Others competing are Derek Stanley (No. 19) and Brandon Williams (No. 16), who has been improving each day in camp. Rookie Donnie Avery remains sidelined with an injury to his pelvic bone.
TIGHT ENDS: One of the biggest disappointments of camp has been the prolonged absence of Anthony Becht, who was expected to contribute significantly as a blocker. Saunders wants to get Randy McMichael involved in the passing game and Joe Klopfenstein has been productive in camp. Keep an eye on rookie Nick Cleaver (No. 47), who simply catches everything thrown his way.
LINEMEN: Left tackle Orlando Pace is expected to play, but not a large number of snaps. Adam Goldberg has done well in camp at left tackle, feeling more comfortable with line coach Steve Loney, who was his coach previously in Minnesota. Goldberg did a solid job against Titans right defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch in practice, and he will be matched up against him in the game.
Said Goldberg, “You don’t really need a scouting report on a player with a reputation like that. He’s an elite player in the league, a Pro Bowl player. His scouting report is years of film and Pro Bowl tapes.”
Asked about doing well against him in practice, Goldberg said, “That’s my job, right? It felt good, but blocking anybody in this league feels good. That’s what you get paid to do. It doesn’t matter who your competition is, that’s your job, and that’s what’s expected of you.”
As for Loney, Goldberg said, “(He’s) a really positive influence. He’s an outstanding coach, not only X’s and O’s and football wise, but he’ll make you a better person and a better player. He’s a great influence to be around. He’s always lifting you up.”
Center Brett Romberg hasn’t practiced much recently because of a hand injury, but he is expected to start after practicing Friday. How long is the question, so it’s possible Nick Leckey will get some time at center and Richie Incognito will start at right guard. After coming back from a knee injury, Mark Setterstrom has been the second-team right guard in practice. Watch to see whether Incognito slides to center with the second team. The other centers are Donovan Raiola (No. 61) and Dustin Fry (no. 62), but Fry has been playing mostly guard in camp.
Leckey is a player coaches always seem to try to replace, but he won’t let them.
Said Linehan, “Nick is just one of those guys we can always count on. If Setterstrom is out, we move Richie to guard and Romberg’s hand hurts, Nick steps in and takes all the reps and never says a word. He really relishes that role and knows that is his role so we can always count on him.”
LINEMEN: The Titans have very good bookend tackles (Michael Roos (No. 71) and David Stewart (No. 76), so ends Leonard Little, Chris Long and James Hall will be tested. Hall flashed early in camp, but has come back down to earth. With Victor Adeyanju out with a broken finger, Eric Moore gets a chance for plenty of snaps. Inside, keep an eye on nose tackle Willie Williams (No. 93).
LINBACKERS: This could be a chance for backups to shine with middle man Will Witherspoon not expected to play much because of a bruised shoulder. Several linebackers have shown up well in camp, and they will all get plenty of opportunities tonight. Quinton Culberson is expected to start on the strong side. Keep an eye on undrafted rookie Marc Magro (No. 55), as well as rookies Chamberlain (No. 57) and David Vobora (No. 58). Magro and Tim McGarigle (No. 59) have taken most of the backup snaps in the middle.
SECONDARY: Tye Hill and Ron Bartell are the starters at cornerback with Fakhir Brown still sidelined by a shoulder injury. Look for rookie Justin King (No. 32) to be the nickel back, although Jonathan Wade could also see some time with the first unit as the third corner. With safety Oshiomogho Atogwe out, Todd Johnson will get a lot of playing time, along with Eric Bassey (No. 41), who was converted from cornerback in the offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Donnie Jones is the only punter, and he also holds for Josh Brown. When left-footed Justin Medlock kicks, Looker is the holder, so Jones doesn’t have to worry about changing his technique.
Stanley could return some kickoffs and punts, with Williams also a possibility on both, depending on how much coaches want to expose Hall.
The coverage units are where several backup jobs on defense could be decided, especially at linebacker, where it’s possible seven players could earn roster spots.
Re: Game On
I know there are tons of players to watch in this game, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how Culberson plays tonight.
-08-09-2008 #3Registered User
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Re: Game On
Game's not on in Los Angeles until tomorrow on DTV.
But I checked online and not thrilled to see Bulger was 0-3 and an INT. Then it updated he was sacked and fumbled, but then a flag on the play canceled it out.
You can't read too much into on the first few plays of pre-season, but I do remember when we were a good team, the first unit went out there and went down the field and got points and then came out of the game.
Bulger is now like 2 for 9. Not thrilled. Not good.
Say all you want about "it doesn't matter". Whatever helps you sleep at night.
-08-09-2008 #4btimsah Guest
-08-09-2008 #5Registered User
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Re: Game On
I will be the first to say that I am not thrilled to see that Linehans strategy of a 'fast start' has not happened. At the same time, I am not going to forget how good the Rams were in pre season when Tony Banks and Lawrence Philips were running the show. Get serious here guys! It is almost as though we anticipate losing! Look at the bright side of things. Looks like our defense has done quite well.
Remember that Steven Jackson is not here and the Rams are still feeling out how O. Pace is doing. Not a big deal here people!
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