Sunday, September 5, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

With the end of the preseason comes new hope and new beginnings for every team in the NFL. The haves and have-nots will soon be separated, but for now, there isn’t a team in the league that isn’t dreaming of holding the Lombardi Trophy.

The Rams concluded their preseason with a 1-3 record, but decidedly performed better in each of the last two games, building momentum toward Sunday’s preseason opener against Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome.

The first-team offense was particularly sharp against Oakland, as quarterback Marc Bulger and Marshall Faulk, in their only drive of the night, moved the ball 75 yards on just six plays for a touchdown. Satisfied with the performance of two of the team’s most important cogs, coach Mike Martz ended their nights there.

Martz said he is pleased with the direction of the team heading into the season.

“I feel good where we are, I really do,” Martz said. “The areas we wanted to get better (we did). I am very excited about the play of the quarterbacks. Losing (CB Travis) Fisher has hurt us to some extent, but we should be fine back there.”

INJURY UPDATE: Torry Holt was in street clothes against Oakland on Thursday night as a precautionary measure for back spasms. Martz said Friday that he expects Holt to be fine and he didn’t want to take any chances with Holt or Isaac Bruce.

Preseason games can usually be categorized as a success if you can leave with few injuries. For that reason, Thursday’s game was an unqualified success for the Rams. Cameron Cleeland suffered a mild sprained left ankle. The injury comes after Cleeland battled a hamstring injury throughout camp and then was in a car accident near Rams Park.

None of the adversity has affected Cleeland’s performance, though. In his first extended time after returning, Cleeland finished with 72 yards on four catches, one for a touchdown.

Martz said Cleeland’s effort throughout the preseason is deserving of high admiration.

“He is really playing very well,” Martz said. “I can’t praise him enough.”

The only other injury suffered was to rookie tight end Erik Jensen. He had a mild strain of his left knee while trying to score a touchdown late in the game. Jensen missed about two weeks during training camp with a similar injury.

The bumps and bruises on the offensive line also appear to be clearing up, according to Martz. Left guard Chris Dishman (ankle) and Tom Nütten (turf toe) did not play against Oakland, but Martz said he expects to have both players back for the opener. Dishman is likely to start.

Kevin Curtis, who has missed time with shin splints, caught a pair of passes for 33 yards. Martz said Curtis’ shin splints would be a day-by-day thing.

CUT DAY: The Rams must cut their roster to the final 53 by Sunday, but could do it anytime before. The team used most of Thursday night’s game to get a good look at some people who were on the bubble and Martz said the staff began the evaluation process Friday morning.

“We spent the morning trying to get a sense of what the cuts will be and what are needs are going to be and any other possible things we need to do,” Martz said.