Rams-Browns: What to watch

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams open their preseason slate tonight in Cleveland (8 p.m. E.T.) with plenty of questions that still need answers.

They won’t get those answers against the Cleveland Browns but they can at least begin to start leaning one direction or another.

During the regular season, this space will be used to preview upcoming games by focusing on matchups and opposing players who could be a headache. Since this is the preseason and none of those things really matter much, the focus will instead be on things to watch in terms of personnel and roster battles.

Running back breakdown

Daryl Richardson is expected to get the first crack in the running game but expect to see Isaiah Pead get some chances with the first-team offense as well.

Richardson and Pead have taken turns working with the top offense during the first couple of weeks of camp and coach Jeff Fisher has indicated that the pair is competing for the starting job.

What happens after they take their turns will depend on a couple of health issues. Rookie Zac Stacy did not practice Monday or Tuesday and Terrance Ganaway appeared to suffer a leg injury at the end of Tuesdays practice.

Undrafted rookie Benjamin Cunningham has impressed since returning from a knee injury and could find himself getting plenty of opportunities pending the status of Stacy and Ganaway. Chase Reynolds also figures to get some work.

Backing up Bradford

There’s no question that Sam Bradford is entrenched as the starter at quarterback. Bradford will likely get a series or two with the first offense before handing over the reins to Austin Davis and Kellen Clemens.

Davis won a roster spot last year based on his strong preseason performance but this year finds himself looking to win the No. 2 job behind Bradford. Clemens is the veteran of the backup group and a more known commodity than Davis or fourth quarterback Tim Jenkins.

Davis and Clemens have alternated days working with the second-string offense so it stands to reason that each will get some opportunities with the primary backups and handle the majority of the workload after Bradford calls it a night.

First look at Austin

The rave reviews that rookie receiver Tavon Austin has received have been based largely on his running around (albeit running really fast) in shorts and shoulder pads. While Austin has certainly looked every bit as dangerous as advertised, tonight’s game will be his first opportunity to do it in real game action.

Austin has been used at wideout, running back and as a kick and punt returner during camp. It’s likely the Rams will use him in all of those ways during the regular season but it remains to be seen if they’ll do the same during exhibition games.

Since the Rams will be pretty bland in their play calling, don’t expect to see much trickery with Austin at the center of it.

Left guard looks

The one starting position in training camp that has followed through on being a true timeshare has been at left guard where Chris Williams and Shelley Smith have been taking turns with the first-team offense.

Williams and Smith are both much more comfortable in the offense after coming to the Rams last year at midseason and just before the regular season, respectively. A timeshare is nothing new to either of them as they split the job on the right side after Harvey Dahl suffered a season-ending biceps tear in Week 15.

Expect Smith and Williams to get looks with the first team tonight.

Rookie defenders

For the most part, the Rams starting defense is pretty well set. That group of 11 includes rookies at linebacker and safety in the form of Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald.

Ogletree and McDonald have been working with the first-team defense since the beginning of camp and appear poised to hold down those spots on a permanent basis.

McDonald has taken some by surprise with his coverage skills in camp despite struggles in that area as a senior at USC and again at the Senior Bowl in January.

Ogletree is worth watching for the opposite reason that McDonald will be. Throughout camp, the converted safety has been as good in coverage as expected but with the pads on and a chance to do some tackling, we’ll get our first look at Ogletree’s ability to take on blockers and hold up in the run game.