By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/10/2006

Preseason game or not, Scott Linehan has left no stone unturned in preparation for his first contest as Rams head coach.

In mid-June, he and offensive assistant Jeff Horton spent several hours in the Edward Jones Dome getting the lay of the land.

"We kind of went through how everything works," Linehan said. "Got the tour. Where we park. Where our locker rooms are. ... Where the coaches go."

As a result, Linehan said there's a plan for everything on game day.

"Where you put your chairs. Where the offense sits. Where you put the greaseboard," he said. "Where the coordinators and the head coach meet at halftime. Where I meet with officials. That's all planned."

Just to make sure we're clear on this: You have a plan for where you put the chairs in the locker room?

"Believe it or not we do," Linehan said. "We've got a map for it."

If Linehan has a plan for chairs, who knows what else he has mapped out for the Rams? We'll begin to get an idea tonight, when the Rams open exhibition play against visiting Indianapolis. Kickoff is 7.

"Games are why we do this," Linehan said. "Coaches and players. That's the payday for all of us."

Preseason or not, that's the case tonight, even for Rams veterans such as wide receiver Dane Looker.

"I think most particularly the first one, you're really excited for," Looker said. "Because training camp -- it seems like we've been here for two months practicing against the same guys day in and day out."

But that changes tonight.

"You forget, this is some of these guys' first game in the NFL ever," Looker said. "It's going to be a nationally televised game. Personally, you want to go out there and make great plays. But as a team, collectively, you want to go out there and establish a new era in Rams football."

Although nationally televised, the game will be blacked out locally because ticket sales did not meet NFL sellout requirements.

"With Indianapolis coming in, you'd think people would want to come out and see the product," Looker said. "Maybe they want to see what product we're going to put on the field first, so it's important for us in that regard to go out there and make a great impact early."

It will be the first look at a revamped Rams defense that features Jim Haslett as coordinator, plus free-agent pickups La'Roi Glover (tackle), Will Witherspoon (linebacker), Corey Chavous (safety) and Fakhir Brown (cornerback).

On offense, someone other than Mike Martz will be calling the plays for the Rams for the first time since 1998. Namely Linehan, who made his NFL reputation as coordinator for Minnesota and then Miami.

Rams starters aren't expected to play more than a series or two tonight, and then the backups take over. Linehan says he's playing to win in the preseason, but not at the expense of the player evaluation that's necessary en route to the final roster cutdowns.

"The reason for having a preseason game is we've got to give everybody a chance to play," Linehan said. "So our message to the team is whoever's in there, we're playing to win. The objective is to go in and improve as a team. You've got to try to do that regardless of the outcome of the game. But we're always playing to win."

Linehan says his staff has done a fair amount of game-planning for the Colts. That's partly because there's a new coaching staff and a new offense in St. Louis.

"We'd like to get into a rhythm," Linehan said. "I think it's important for the offensive players to get a feel for how the games will be called, what kind of plays will be called -- the mix -- so they start to get comfortable with not only the system but the tempo."

But the extra preseason game-planning is also because defenses seem to doing more blitzing in the preseason these days in the NFL.

"Defensive coaches have changed their approach, or teams have changed their approach, to preseason games," Linehan said. "You see a lot more multiple looks. So you have to get your guys ready for potential dog and blitz packages that maybe in the old days they wouldn't show until the (regular) season.

"In Miami last year, we had over 50 (blitzes) in one of our preseason games from the opposing defense, which is unbelievable."

On the other side of the ball, it's uncertain how much Haslett and the Rams' defense will have cooked up tonight for Indy. The still-potent Colts offense is minus running back Edgerrin James this season, but still features Peyton Manning at quarterback, plus Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at wide receiver. Manning is expected to play the first couple of series tonight.