Rams Ready for New Beginning
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

Posted 2 hours ago

As first games go, Sunday’s showdown with the Arizona Cardinals might have as much meaning as any regular season opener in recent Rams history.

With buzz around the team building, confidence growing from a successful preseason, a divisional opponent in town and an opportunity to set the tone for the 2010 season, there’s no doubt that the 3:15 kickoff at the Edward Jones Dome could hold the key to what’s to come this year.

“I think there’s some confidence there and there should be, rightly so,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Nobody’s getting overconfident in this building because the real job is just beginning now. We’ve got a regular season game at home in front of our fans. We’d like to kind of get on a roll here. It’s important to come out of the blocks early and try to win a football game. The sooner we get our first win, the better off we’ll be.”

That confidence springs from a preseason in which the Rams went 3-1 and were particularly impressive with the starters on the field for the first half of the New England game and the opening quarter or so of the finale against Baltimore.

In the aftermath of that successful exhibition slate, Spagnuolo and the Rams went about trying to erase any memory of it in the sense that it doesn’t mean much in terms of what is to come.

Still, there were plenty of positives to take away from it, including the development of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the performance of the top unit on defense and the emergence of young players such as tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and linebacker Larry Grant.

“You take some positives out of it but you can never get your head in the clouds about preseason,” cornerback Ron Bartell said. “The Lions were 4-0 in preseason a couple of years ago and went 0-16. You can’t take too much out of preseason. But you can take a little from the good things you do and a little from the bad things you do too.”

In Arizona, the Rams get perhaps the perfect opponent for the season opener. The Cardinals have been the bench mark for the NFC West Division, winning it rather comfortably over the past two seasons.

Arizona has also been a recent tormentor of the Rams in winning the past seven meetings between the teams. There is, however, a precedent for season opening contests between the teams.

The Rams and Cardinals have met 10 times in season openers with the Rams holding a 7-3 advantage. The most recent season opening meeting occurred in 2004 with the Rams walking away with a victory.
Getting a win against a team with so much recent success against them would go a long way toward validating the buzz that has been building around the Rams in the past few weeks but it would also hold plenty of additional meaning within the walls of the organization.

“Not even just to confirm the belief but just as an organization standpoint,” defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. “I think the last division game we won was ’07 at San Fran so like I said the challenge has been laid. We have got a good team coming in two years from a Super Bowl. They have some All Pros over there. A lot of people want to put a lot of hype into all the guys they lost but they have got a prideful group over there. We have a huge challenge ahead of us in the two time defending NFC West champions.”

The Cardinals did indeed lose the trigger man for their high powered offense when quarterback Kurt Warner retired in the offseason. The team also traded long time Rams nemesis Anquan Boldin and lost talented linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle to free agency.

Arizona will start former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson at quarterback but provide him with plenty of weapons in the form of talented receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet.

While the Cardinals certainly suffered their share of losses in terms of personnel, the Rams are in no position to take anyone lightly according to Spagnuolo.

“Right now, they’re the best team in the NFL because we’re playing them on Sunday,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the way we’re going about it right now, because we have to. Everybody we play, we’re going to have respect for. That’s still a good football team.”

Players in the locker room can feel the optimism that has been built in the past few weeks but running back Steven Jackson says that hasn’t changed how the Rams are going about their business.

“To be honest with you, I think the optimism is a little more on the outside than what’s going on in the building,” Jackson said. “I think the community, you guys, the media are really excited about what we have going on here. I think each and every year I’ve been here there’s always been optimism. We just hope that Sam continues to play at the rate that he’s playing, our receivers, our defensive guys continue to gel, and the one good thing we have done here is, we have a lot of younger guys that kind of know their role. They continue to do that. (If) some of the playmakers step up and make bigger plays, we’ll be fine.”

Following the struggles of the 2009 season, there’s an air of wonder about what this year’s edition of the Rams will bring.

But with a full offseason of changes to the roster, organized team activities, minicamps, training camp and an entire preseason slate in the rearview mirror, there’s no time to dwell on the past.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis can tell that nothing that happened in 2009 has been brought into this new season and says the focus is on the singular goal of beating Arizona on Sunday.

“To be honest with you I am one of those guys that when something happens you just have to forget about it,” Laurinaitis said. “I forget about it already from last year. Obviously I have a recollection. We realize that, we saw it and you forget about it. It’s like in a game. In the course of a game, bad plays will happen. You forget about it and move on. If you sit there and dwell on it, it’s just going to start building up in you…so I go in there every single game and expect the best and that will be my attitude until I am done playing football and done competing. I think everybody else in this locker room has that same mentality. We have just got to go out there and see what we can do and see what this team can make happen. This team is hungry.”