- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- At the conclusion of Saturday’s scrimmage, Rams coach Jeff Fisher declared the opening phase of this year’s training camp officially complete.
As of Monday morning, the Rams rookies had been in town for two full weeks and the veterans were closing in on that mark after joining their rookie counterparts two days later.
Most of that time has been spent re-installing and familiarizing with schemes on both sides of the ball, a veritable refresher course on what was done during the offseason program in the spring.
The time for slowly wading into playbooks and getting acclimated is now gone.
“Things are going to go fast,” Fisher said. “And now we’ve got to get game ready, get the guys ready to play football.”
The Rams will get their first chance to play someone other than themselves Thursday night when they open the exhibition season in Cleveland. Before they do, let’s take a look at 15 things we know about the Rams as they prepare for their preseason opener.
1. The Rams’ identity is evolving into a faster, more aggressive, up-tempo approach. While the defense started the shift last year, the offense is catching up this year and it’s evident in every practice.
2. Quarterback Sam Bradford is more comfortable in his second season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. He’s spending more time teaching and communicating with his young receivers than he did a year ago when the offense was foreign to him.
3. Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin is as advertised. His speed and change of direction have been apparent and the Rams are using him in many ways: wideout, running back and returner.
4. Tight end Jared Cook and Bradford have formed a connection that’s carried over from the spring to training camp. Cook has consistently been Bradford’s favorite target.
5. The competition at running back is only just beginning. While Daryl Richardson has seen plenty of action with the first team, Isaiah Pead has had his opportunities to work his way into the mix and rookie Zac Stacy will be heard from before the preseason slate is complete.
6. Likewise with the battle at left guard, which is the only other spot on the offense that is a true time-share at this point. Chris Williams and Shelley Smith have taken turns with the first team but neither has separated at this stage.
7. Receivers Chris Givens and Austin Pettis appear poised to nail down the starting spots at split end and flanker, respectively. Givens is essentially a sure thing but with Brian Quick struggling to find consistency, Pettis is staking his claim as well.
8. Tackle Rodger Saffold is slowly, but surely, getting accustomed to the right side after spending his first three seasons on the left.
9. So far, the team’s many veteran offensive linemen have managed to stay healthy.
10. Competition for the safety jobs never truly materialized as T.J. McDonald and Darian Stewart have consistently worked with the first team. So long as Stewart stays healthy, it appears the starting defense is pretty well set.
11. Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree is already entrenched as a starter on the outside and is almost certain to stay on the field in nickel packages.
12. The defensive line remains the team’s strongest unit and looks primed to improve on last year’s breakthrough performance.
13. Having Tim Walton take over defensive coordinator duties has allowed the defense to focus on one voice and one direction after playing without a coordinator in 2012.
15. Among the undrafted free agents working to make the roster, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong has impressed.