Saturday, August 9, 2008

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

NASHVILLE , Tenn. – With running back Steven Jackson into his third week of a holdout, the Rams got a long look at their other running back options in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Titans.

Jackson, who has now missed 16 days, 19 practices and a preseason game, was nowhere near LP Field on Saturday night, giving the likes of Antonio Pittman, Brian Leonard, Travis Minor and Lance Ball plenty of opportunities to show their chops.

Leonard got the official start in place of Jackson though Pittman had been announced as the pregame starter. Leonard’s night didn’t provide much comfort for those missing Jackson though he had a couple of bright spots.

It started poorly enough when Leonard was hit hard for a 2-yard loss on the opening play. It got worse on the next possession when he lost 3 yards on the second play from scrimmage and he tipped a ball intended for fullback Dan Kreider into the arms of Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck, who returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.

Leonard didn’t play much beyond the first three series, ending his night with 12 yards on five carries. Of course, 11 of those yards came on a spinning, tackle breaking run that helped set up the first team’s offense lone points on a Josh Brown field goal.

With Leonard out, the Rams turned to Pittman. Like Leonard, Pittman had his ups and downs though he was playing with a bruised thigh.

Pittman gutted it out and ran hard between the tackles, though, picking up 21 yards on six carries. Pittman also provided the first touchdown of the night, taking a handoff 2 yards around the left side for a score. He added 16 yards on two catches.

Pittman gave way to Minor in the third quarter and he gained 20 yards on five carries. He picked up 13 yards on a pair of catches.

Ball finally got in the game in the fourth quarter but never got a touch.

SCRATCHES: The Rams had no real surprises on their list of pregame scratches.

Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring), tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring), cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder), receiver Donnie Avery (pelvic bone), defensive end Victor Adeyanju (broken finger) and tackle Julius Wilson (thigh) were scratched.

In addition, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon dressed for the game but did not play.

Todd Johnson replaced Atogwe, Ron Bartell replaced Brown and Tim McGarigle stepped in for Witherspoon.

PACE PLAYS: Left tackle Orlando Pace played in his first game action since the season opener last season against Carolina .

Pace is still recovering from shoulder surgery and has been limited to a few reps in team drills here and there during training camp.

Pace played the bulk of the first quarter, working against Tennessee ’s Kyle Vanden Bosch with mixed results. He got beat on one play that resulted in quarterback Marc Bulger taking a hit after he released the ball on an intended screen pass. But Pace also held his own the rest of the way.

RETURN REWIND: The Rams gave Dante Hall some work on kick returns early and a punt return opportunity but Derek Stanley got the bulk of the kick return work.

Hall’s lone kick return went for 23 yards and he waved off a chance at a punt return.

Stanley got no opportunities as a punt returner but six chances on kick returns. He had mixed results, with a long of 27 yards. He also coughed up a fumble on a return in the fourth quarter.

RAM BITS: Donnie Jones worked as the holder for Josh Brown. Dane Looker handled the duties for backup kicker Justin Medlock…Brett Romberg started at center with Richie Incognito at right guard…Cornerback Justin King suffered a hyperextended toe injury in the first quarter that kept him out for the rest of the game. King worked in the team’s nickel package ahead of Jonathan Wade with Bartell playing in the slot and King on the outside…Tackle Brandon Gorin had a shoulder injury on one of his first snaps from scrimmage in the second quarter that also cost him the rest of the game…Brown handled all kicking chores in the first half with Justin Medlock doing the work in the second.