By: Ron Clements

When the St. Louis Rams visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for a 12:30 p.m. Central kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium, most eyes will be on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the top overall pick in April’s draft.

Luck replaces Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and his preseason NFL debut is the main reason NFL Network will televise the game live.

The Rams are hoping Luck will have some difficulty completing passes against a St. Louis secondary that added veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan and picked talented, yet troubled, Janoris Jenkins in the second round of April’s draft before selecting Montana’s Trumaine Johnson in the third round.

Jenkins and Finnegan against Reggie Wayne and the rest of the Colts receivers will be one area of intrigue.

Last year’s preseason opener against the Colts was a coming out party for then-rookie tight end Lance Kendricks, who struggled with drops once the regular season arrived.

Kendricks is in a competition with six other tight ends, including free-agent acquisitions Brody Eldridge and Matthew Mulligan. Undrafted rookies Jamie Childers and Cory Harkey are also in the competition.

The Rams went 4-0 in the preseason last year before a 2-14 regular season. New coach Jeff Fisher wants to win every game, but knows that the preseason is less about wins and losses and more about player evaluations.

“We’re looking forward to watching them play,” Fisher said following Thursday’s practice. “We want to see the rookies respond under pressure, which there is obvious pressure in the first one. You stay somewhat basic. You don’t try to out-scheme somebody and spend all this time; you want to see them block and tackle; you want to see them execute the fundamentals against a good opponent.

“What you want to do through the preseason is not give up a lot of points, keep the penalties down – keep them way down – protect the football, block and tackle and execute and let the score take care of itself.”

A Sunday road game also gives the rookies to learn what traveling during the regular season will be like.

“What this allows us to do especially for the new guys that end up making the (final 53-man roster), they will have gone through the experience of playing middle part of the day on Sunday,” Fisher said. “You go through the experience of traveling, getting up early and kicking the ball off, rather than wait till 7, 7:30.”

Outside of tight end, the Rams have several other hotly contested position battles. The Rams have 10 wide receivers in camp and eight cornerbacks. The team will likely keep just six players at each position.

Rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens will make their debut and hope to stand out among a group that still hasn’t found its No. 1 option.

It will also be the first time for Quinn Ojinnaka, Bryan Mattison and rookie Rokevious Watkins to show the coaching staff what they can do at left guard against another opponent.

Ojinnaka also could factor in at tackle, where Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold are the starters. Smith is getting pushed by Barry Richardson at right tackle.

There has been a plethora of poor tacking during the handful of preseason games that have already been played. Fisher realizes that limited contact allowed in training camp has an effect in the preseason.

“You don’t necessarily tackle in pads on the practice field,” Fisher said. “Tackling is going to be a priority of ours on the defensive side as well as special teams.

“We’re going to go out there and play. When they line up we kick the ball off their not going to be thinking about how many practices we had in pads and so on and so forth.”

Fisher has given several veterans some time off this week, resting players for leg and hamstring soreness. Don’t expect starters like Steven Jackson or Sam Bradford to play much on Sunday.

“Jack may play a few plays less than the next guy, but philosophically speaking I think we pretty much, follow what everybody else does,” Fisher said. “Couple series to a quarter and then guys that may be competing for a starting job may play, you know, they may go in and come back out. So, you’re talking about anywhere from 12 to 20 plays.
“We’ve talked about playing the younger players a little more than you ordinarily would in preseason games. Particularly, because we’re getting the first and the second group more of the reps on the practice field. So, you may see them play a couple more series than in years past, but we’ll adjust. The numbers are good, the health by in large is good. As far as play time is concerned, it’s going to vary depending on the player and the position and basically what happens in the game.”

Coaches don’t gameplan nearly as much for preseason games as they would in the regular season. Teams tend to use vanilla schemes on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean a few wrinkles don’t get thrown in.

“We’ll continue to add things as the preseason goes on,” Fisher said. “Expect more of the players in Week 3 and Week 4, but each opponent is different. Out of fairness to the players, you need to somewhat prepare them. For example they’ve been practicing against an even front, four-man front, and in all likelihood we’re going to be going against an odd-front, a three-man front, so you need to give them a chance to be successful.”

Sunday’s game will give the fringe roster players on both teams to show what they can do.

“It’s when given the opportunity, go do the right thing,” Fisher said. “When you get an opportunity go cover a kickoff, stay in your lane, go make a play. Apply what you’ve been taught on the practice field and in the classroom on the playing field. They all have ability, and unfortunately we can’t keep them all, but we are going to try and get them all in the ball game.”