BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
08/25/2006

So here is what the Rams need to do Saturday night in Kansas City: Clean up their game.

Coach Scott Linehan has plenty of personnel issues to examine during the second-to-last preseason game. He needed to identify his third quarterback and kick returner(s). He must define his depth along both lines.

How do his cornerbacks stack up behind Fakhir Brown? Do the Rams really need to invest some money on a No. 2 running back like Stephen Davis? And which of his extra players can earn roster spots by excelling on special teams?

Many of these personnel issues will sort themselves out at Arrowhead Stadium. What is really critical in this game is
execution.


For a lot of teams, that wouldn’t be a big deal at this point of the summer. After all, these are just practice games. A lot of the players won’t be around for the regular-season opener.

Top teams expect to play crisp football once the real games begin. Top teams have their stuff together.

But Linehan still is addressing the sloppiness that became pervasive during the last few seasons of the Mike Martz Regime. He was clearly upset about all the mishaps that occurred during the loss to Houston in Game 2 of the preseason.

The new coach has been adamant about cutting down on penalties, especially the “pre-snap” gaffes like false start and offside infractions. The new coach is determined to build sound, consistent kick coverage teams.

He and his assistant coaches are working to eliminate the mental mistakes that inevitably occur when new offensive and defensive systems are installed with all that new terminology.


Game 3 is the time to make all this happen. By next week, the Rams want to be in tune-up mode. By next week, the Rams want to have the new program solidly in place.

Ideally, the goal of the final preseason game is to decide the last few roster spots and get all the regulars through the night in one piece.

But in this practice game against the Chiefs, the Rams have plenty of work to do.

“Our first units will play more in this game than they have in the first two,” Linehan told reporters Wednesday. “We haven’t determined the exact amount. Certainly a good portion of the first half and then guys that are battling it out will get the remainder of the game.”

And what does he want to see from the guys battling it out?

“We don’t push them or put them in a mind set that they’ve got to make extraordinary plays,” Linehan said. “We just want them to be consistent and play 100 percent and give great effort, and plays will happen. I think just seeing them approaching the game like ‘Hey, I may be disappointed but I’m not going to have a regret over how I approached this.’

“That’s really what you want out of everybody, and I think we’re getting that same effort from maybe what’s perceived as the 85th player, to the first player on our roster. We want everybody to kind of approach everything the same way. I think it’s been a very healthy team environment.”


Now he hopes to see that healthy team environment produce a clean game Saturday. Linehan seems to say and do all the right things for a first-year coach, but now he must start getting results.

Have the Rams really bought in? Has there been a team-wide rededication to playing strong, solid and smart football?

When your cyber-correspondent sits down to write his Rams Game Day blog Saturday night, that -– rather than great individual plays -– will be what I will look for.

This Rams team will make plays this season. There is no doubt about that. But will they negate too many plays by making dumb mistakes?