Rams Ready for Preseason Opener
Thursday, August 13, 2009

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When the Rams step on the field against the Jets on Friday night for the first game time under coach Steve Spagnuolo, the end result wonít be the most important thing.

After all, itís the first preseason game and the first opportunity for Spagnuolo to see how his team fares against someone wearing a different jersey. Like any preseason game, the plays for the starters will be limited and the playbook will be rather vanilla.

What Spagnuolo wants to see, more so than more points on the Ramsí side than the Jets, is how his team competes when the lights come on.

ďIn a lot of ways itís a continuation of training camp in my opinion because you are still working,Ē Spagnuolo said. ďBut I will say this, it doesnít matter whether you are playing pickup basketball in the backyard or playing your brother in cards, itís competition. Everybody wants to win so we will approach this thing like a competition. We want to compete, compete at the highest level and let it play itself out. Itís great we are going to get some situational work. We have been doing a lot of that in practice. But thereís nothing like playing in the game.Ē

To this point, the Rams have gone through an entire offseason under their new direction. That includes organized team activities, minicamps and conditioning programs. In this yearís training camp, this game signals the first true benchmark and the chance for the 80 players on the roster to get a real evaluation from the coaching staff.

On Thursday, the team moved out of its training camp hotel and though it will still be in camp mode as far as practice upon return from New York, the business of looking toward the regular season isnít far off.

The Rams are now 24 practices and one full squad scrimmage into this yearís training camp and the light at the end of the tunnel is growing closer.

That said thereís plenty left to accomplish between now and the Sept. 13 opener at Seattle.

ďIím really excited to see what this í09 team has,Ē running back Steven Jackson said. ďI think over the last several months, from OTAs until now, weíve really worked on changing the identity of this team. And I think Friday will be a showing of where weíre at so far in this season, this early season.Ē

The first preseason game is generally viewed as a way to ease players back into the grind and intensity of a real, live football game. More often than not, teams choose to use their top players for a limited time and wait until the second and third preseason games before they give those groups an extended period of time.

For the Rams, it will be no different. Spagnuolo said Wednesday he expects to use his starting unit for about the first quarter, give or take a few plays and then move on to the rest of the roster.

ďIím not going to put a number on it,Ē Spagnuolo said. ďLetís say first quarter and thereís a chance theyíll come out in the first quarter. Those first groups will be looking at the first quarter, maybe some in the second quarter but somewhere in that range.Ē

For players such as running back Steven Jackson and quarterback Marc Bulger, itís necessary to get the work in but itís also a fine line to ensure they make it through the preseason healthy and peaking at the right time.

Because the Ramsí training camp has been so physical to this point with so many practices featuring live tackling, the need for guys like Jackson to get a bunch of snaps isnít as great as it might have been in previous years.

Jackson says he has no set number of plays and will take the reps heís asked to take against the Jets, just like any other game.

Of course, with a new offense to work in, itís important for Jackson and Co. to get acclimated to the nuances within the system.

ďReally, I just focus on not having mental errors, working on techniques,Ē Jackson said. ďIt is a new offense, new things that I have to do. So just making sure, over the course of a drive I may get winded or tired, but Iím staying on course with what needs to be done.Ē

Things are a little different for Bulger and the quarterbacks because they havenít been live in games yet and havenít taken any shots like they will in regular games.

ďItís good for quarterbacks to get in in the preseason, just to get hit,Ē Bulger said. ďWe havenít been live, so thereís a big difference for quarterbacks going into a game like this than it is for a scrimmage, so itíll be not as big for the other guys. But for the quarterbacks, I think itíll be a good opportunity to get hit and get some of that initial soreness out.Ē

The goal for those top units is to get a couple of good series, move the ball well in the case of the offense and come up with stops for the defense and ultimately give way to the guys who are battling for roster spots.

This is the money time for the long shots trying to make an impression and eventually land on the roster or even make enough of an impression to be on the practice squad.

Competitions like those for the third quarterback job, the backup running back spot, finding a returner and sorting out the receiver situation are all a big part of the exhibition contests.

Beyond the competition on the field and the things the players are trying to accomplish, itís also the first opportunity for the coaching staff and equipment staff and everybody else to work out the details and the kinks of the gameday experience.

ďWe are still evaluating talent,Ē Spagnuolo said. ďI think you have to be real careful in the first preseason game and by that I mean if you hone to much on the game you forget itís training camp. Whatís good about itÖis we get in some situations. Thatís the great thing about the first preseason game is coaches on their headsets, players in and out, substitutions, controlling time. All of that has to be worked out and thatís part of playing the four preseason games.Ē