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    Rams Ready For Home Debut

    Rams Ready for Home Debut
    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo wasn’t fazed by returning to his old stomping grounds at Giants Stadium for last week’s preseason opener against the Jets.

    Spagnuolo likely won’t react much different on Friday night when he and the new look Rams make their debut in front of the home fans at the likewise new look Edward Jones Dome against Atlanta.

    In the days leading up to the opener in New York, Spagnuolo insisted that he wouldn’t let any lingering emotion of his former employer take over. He acknowledged that he would think for a brief moment about his time with the Giants but then it was all Rams.

    This time, though, Spagnuolo fessed up to being at least a little excited to be in front of a friendly crowd for the first time as a head coach.

    “It is because it is St. Louis and I appreciate the fans and every body here,” Spagnuolo said. “I think there are great sports fans here but once the game kicks off – I will always say this to the players – it is really what happens between the white lines. Now it is certainly always nice to have the support but the game is played on the field and I hope the guys will focus on that and hopefully we can do good enough things that there will be a lot of cheering.”

    Should the Rams find a way to repeat what they did last week against the Jets, the blue and gold faithful in attendance should have plenty of opportunities to cheer. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of areas in which Spagnuolo and his staff would like to see improvement this week against the Falcons.

    Spagnuolo said Wednesday that he expects to get the top units about a half of work on each side with some room in there for substitutions. Running back Steven Jackson, for example, isn’t likely to play all of that time though the amount of plays for those units is more important to Spagnuolo than the actual game time played.

    “We’ll say the first and second quarter,” Spagnuolo said. “If the number of reps gets too high maybe that will change but that will be the approach.”

    Of course, the first units will look a little different considering the events of the past week. Fans and coaches will almost certainly get a look at four players who either didn’t play or didn’t appear with the first unit last week.

    Left guard Jacob Bell suffered a concussion in the preseason opener and isn’t likely to play. Quarterback Marc Bulger is out with a broken right pinkie and tackle Alex Barron isn’t likely to play with swelling in his knee.

    That leaves opportunities for John Greco and Mark Setterstrom at guard, rookie Jason Smith at right tackle (with Adam Goldberg moving to the left side) and Kyle Boller stepping in for Bulger at quarterback.

    Fortunately for the Rams, none of the aforementioned injuries seem serious and if nothing else, those ailments will allow the team to get a good look at some other players who might not normally get a chance with the first team offense.

    “We’re all new to the system and Kyle has to learn the terminology as well,” Jackson said. “I just think it’s good reps for Kyle to get in there with the ones and allow him to be evaluated when working with the starters.”

    For Jackson and his fellow running backs, the emphasis this week is on correcting some of the errors that led to Bulger being sacked three times in last week’s game. In the aftermath of that contest, Spagnuolo acknowledged he’d like to see a better performance from his backs in blitz pickup opportunities.

    For Jackson, Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman, Samkon Gado and Chris Ogbonnaya, that’s one area that has been a focus in this week’s practices. And it will be again against Atlanta.

    “Picking up the blitzes is tough,” Jackson said. “With new schemes you have different reads. It’s really hard to just practice it. You don’t really want to just beat it each other up so in the preseason it allows for us to see different blitzes that certain teams may run. When you’re playing teams like the New York Jets last week, their trying their blitzes out to see how they work. So it was good work for both teams and its just repetitions. That’s really what it is.”

    In the time for the starters, Jackson is likely to get a bit more work running the ball than he did against the Jets. That’s where Karney comes in.

    After missing time with an injured ankle in the first couple of weeks, Karney is expected to make his Rams debut and give people their first look at what the Rams’ rushing attack could look line in 2009 with Karney leading the way for Jackson.

    “I can’t wait,” Jackson said. “I think this is going to be our first time we’re going to be in there together and we can get a feel for one another.”

    In a more big picture sense, Spagnuolo isn’t looking for anything fancy or new out of his team. Rather, he’d like to see continued improvement in areas the team excelled against the Jets and marked improvement in some of the areas it didn’t do so well.

    The Rams will officially end the training camp portion of this preseason on Sunday but as always the message remains the same for the next few days.

    “There were certainly enough things we had to work on but there were good things too so we want to build on that,” Spagnuolo said. “I think it’s always the same thing; it goes right back to all the things I have been saying - still be able to run the football, protect the quarterback. I don’t want to sound redundant, but stop the run, pressure the passer, special teams.”

    What to Watch

    1. Boller’s Turn – Kyle Boller will make his first start as a Ram as the offense continues to grow together. With Marc Bulger out, the Rams would like to see the athletic Boller prove he is capable of filling in when Bulger’s not available.

    2. Line Dancing – Some injuries on the offensive line have created some opportunities for players to get some work with the top unit and bump up the depth chart across the board. With Jacob Bell out, John Greco and Mark Setterstrom could get times with the ones and with left tackle Alex Barron’s status in doubt, rookie Jason Smith could move up to the first unit at right tackle with Adam Goldberg swinging to the left side.

    3. Picking It Up – Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo wanted to see his running backs do a better job of picking up the blitz against the Jets last week. After some struggles in that area, the Rams emphasized it even more in practice this week.

    4. Happy Returns – The Rams are in the midst of the search to declare their kick and punt returners in time for the regular season. Derek Stanley will continue to get reps on both while players like Samkon Gado, Kenneth Darby, Cord Parks and Ronald Curry will also get looks. Nobody has separated from the pack and a big night for any of the candidates could go a long way toward winning the job.

    5. Run D Revelation – Perhaps nothing from last week’s game was a bigger positive than the performance of the defense against the run. The Rams held New York, one of the most accomplished running teams in the league, to less than 4 yards a carry. The task is bigger this week as Atlanta boasts the thunder and lightning combination of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood.

  2. #2
    bigredman Guest

    Re: Rams Ready For Home Debut

    Let's hope those undeserving fans in St. Louis show up and make some noise! There's a Cardinals game in San Diego tonight as well, so I'm not very optimistic.

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