By Bill Coats
08/26/2007 7:59 pm

Although it’s popular to play down the importance of exhibition games, evidence exists that trends established in the preseason sometimes bleed into the contests that count. Just go back a year ago, when the first-team offense sputtered in the preseason. Those struggles extended into the regular season, when the Rams mustered a total of two touchdowns in their first three games.

After three preseason games this year, the first team has failed to produce a touchdown. Does that presage another sluggish start when the games begin to count?

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said: “I recognize that, that we didn’t score last year in the preseason and we started slow. I just think that it’s a totally different set of circumstances this season as opposed to last season.”

Olson noted that the Rams moved the ball fairly well vs. Minnesota and San Diego, only to be short-circuited by turnovers. And they had a couple of promising opportunities Friday at Oakland that failed to materialize.

Three factors are contributing to the lack of production:

>>The Rams have kept their attack extremely vanilla. “We haven’t opened up our playbook,” Olson said. “It’s not our philosophy to show a lot of things in the preseason.”

>>Preseason play-calling often is geared more toward what the coaches want to see from their players than what may work best in specific situations. “We try to get certain players the ball to give them the opportunity to do something,” Olson said. “The plays called in the preseason aren’t so much about game-planning as they are about trying to find something out about the guys on (our team).”

>>The coaches still are determining the best ways to deploy newcomers Drew Bennett, Randy McMichael and Dante Hall. “We’re just trying to find out the new guys’ strengths, and I think we’ve identified those,” Olson said. “We have a better idea of what their pluses and minuses are. As we get into the regular season, we’ll try to act upon those strengths. . . .

“It’s a game of matchups, and when we get down to game-planning throughout the season, we’ll find the best matchups. It’s a chess match. We do have a lot of weapons, and each one of them will have a role, each one of them is a very important piece of this offense. We’ll try to find the best way each one of them will complement the offense and we’ll distribute the balls accordingly.”

Still, Olson acknowledged some unhappiness. “Any time we’re out there, we want to score points. Certainly it’s frustrating when you don’t come away with points,” he said. “But we’ll just keep working, try to see the big picture and understand that when we play Carolina, we’re 0-0. It’s all about getting prepared for the first game.”

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A week after the Chargers’ Darren Sproles raced 81 yards with on a punt return for a touchdown, the coverage unit was torched again. The Raiders’ Chris Carr brought back a kickoff 81 yards, to the Rams’ 16-yard line, on Friday.

“They’re different,” coach Scott Linehan said. “The week before we had guys in fairly decent coverage lanes; we just didn’t break down and make a play. The other night I think they blocked us better, and we didn’t get off blocks. . . . You do that against a dangerous returner in this league, and it’s going to cost you.”

Still, Linehan insisted that the special teams are on the rise. We’re much improved in our return games, and I think our specialists are going to be excellent,” he said. “Where we have the most work to do is making sure we go down and eliminate big plays when they’re returning it. We have our work cut out for us.”

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Notes from Sunday’s practice:

>>The team was back on the outdoor fields after practicing inside all last week.

>>Again, Andy McCollum and Brett Romberg split time at center with the first-team offense. Linehan wants to name a starter before Thursday’s final preseason game, vs. the Chiefs.

>>WR Torry Holt did limited work. He still is experiencing some swelling and soreness in his surgically repaired knee.

>>Linehan joined the linemen for the sideline-to-sideline “gassers” that concluded practice.

>>Jay Glazer of Fox Sports was in attendance.