NFL Nation: St. Louis Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Watching a St. Louis Rams game, preseason or otherwise, without the presence of linebacker James Laurinaitis is a little bit strange.

Since the Rams drafted Laurinaitis in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, he has been one of the few stalwarts in the lineup at his usual position every day of every week for five years. Before missing the first two preseason games against Green Bay and New Orleans with a left ankle injury, Laurinaitis had only missed a single preseason game early in his career.

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesJames Laurinaitis (ankle) has been sidelined in the preseason but has not missed a regular season game in his career.
Aside from that minor blip, Laurinaitis has played all 80 regular-season games and rarely even missed practice. A self-described football junkie, Laurinaitis hasn't taken well to sitting out the past couple of weeks. So it was with great pleasure that he returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

"I don’t rest very well," Laurinaitis said. "It’s not one of my attributes. I don’t like it. It felt good to be out there. I would assume that we do a little more tomorrow and just keep phasing back in."

Laurinaitis suffered the ankle injury early in training camp when he says he tripped over defensive tackle Kendall Langford and awkwardly twisted the ankle. The ankle is the same one Laurinaitis had bone spurs in and was cleaned out in minor surgery in the offseason. According to Laurinaitis, the injury actually deals with the same ligament though it's a different injury.

More than two weeks removed, Laurinaitis said he's feeling much better.

"It just happened to be that exact ligament, got stressed a little bit," Laurinaitis said. "It really felt great today."

Whether Laurinaitis plays against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday remains to be seen, but he has made it clear that he'd like to get some work in the preseason one way or another.

"I want to get out there just to be able to, if I don’t play Saturday I’ll definitely play against Miami because I need to get out there and hit blocks and throw and tackle and all those things," Laurinaitis said. "That’s why I don’t like just kind of standing around."

Of course, if this weekend was the start of the regular season, there's little doubt in Laurinaitis' mind that he'd be playing. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all of their key injured players, bringing them along slowly to ensure there are no setbacks.

Despite Laurinaitis' desire to get back on the field sooner than later, he has come to grips with that approach knowing that it's a means to an end.

"I pride myself always on being available," Laurinaitis said. "We always talk about ability and availability. Two big things that Coach [Gregg] Williams is big on and I’ve always been big on. I pride myself on the fact that I haven’t missed a regular season game. You’ve got to be smart. Because if you go out there like, ‘Hey, let’s test it’ and you do all these things then you have a setback and you’re out another four weeks or three weeks, that would be a terrible deal."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Most likely, injured St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead will land on the team's injured reserve list as he rehabilitates from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Pead
But the move the Rams made Wednesday afternoon at least leaves the door open for the long shot chance he could land elsewhere. The Rams waived Pead with the injury designation on the league's official transaction list.

By placing Pead on waivers, the other 31 teams in the league have 24 hours to claim him. But it would come as a surprise if another team opted to pick up Pead given his $757,100 price tag and injury status. Assuming Pead clears waivers Thursday, he then reverts to the Rams' injured reserve list unless the sides come to an injury settlement.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher's comments in announcing Pead was lost for the season would indicate the plan is for Pead to land on injured reserve and do his rehab in St. Louis before coming back in 2015.

"He worked very very hard to get in the position to where he was a very productive special teamer for us," Fisher said. "And we had high hopes for him doing some things out of the backfield for us as well. So he’ll be undergoing surgery in the next 10 days to two weeks, which is typical with these injuries. So he’s got a long road ahead of him, but I’m confident that as he’s matured over the last couple years that he’ll get back in good shape next year."

The Rams originally drafted Pead with a second-round pick in 2012, but he's had little impact in his two seasons in St. Louis. In 25 games, he has 75 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards. He settled in to a special teams role last season and earned high marks from the coaching staff for his work there. Fisher said the Rams had plans to use Pead in a similar role this season with the occasional contribution to the offense.

Rams Camp Report: Day 17

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
10:30
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams wrapped up the training camp portion of their preseason with a spirited practice in front of some special guests Wednesday afternoon. The football teams from Ferguson, Missouri-area high schools McCluer and McCluer North attended the practice before and after having their own practices in the indoor Rams Park facility. What they saw was a long, hot workout, but they also provided a little jolt of energy that certainly helped the Rams through the workout.
  • On the field, the Rams continue to make strides toward getting four key starters back on the field. Left tackle Jake Long continues on his trajectory to play against the Browns on Saturday as he took the bulk of the reps at his usual spot. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers again took most of the reps with the first-team defense at his spot and said he's expecting to play against Cleveland. Guard Rodger Saffold went beyond the individual work he did Tuesday and participated in some team drills by taking snaps at both guard spots. And linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has been out with an ankle injury, even got back in some seven-on-seven drills, though he has yet to play in 11-on-11. Laurinaitis spoke after practice and confirmed that the injury is to the same ankle he had offseason surgery on, but that the issues are unrelated. He says he's feeling good and if there had been a regular-season game anytime recently, he'd have played. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all four players.
  • The Rams receivers had a bit of a rough go during one-on-one drills as wideouts Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis dropped what should have been easy completions. Tight end Jared Cook had no such issues and came up with a nice grab on a deep, back-shoulder throw from quarterback Sam Bradford in team drills. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson made a nice play on a deep pass on the next snap but was not pleased with himself when he didn't come up with the interception. Otherwise, the day was pretty nondescript as the Rams slogged through another long, hot practice.
  • As is custom, the Rams closed training camp with their usual "dizzy bat" races for all of the rookies and team interns. All participants pick up a ball and run 10 yards, drop it off, run another 10 yards and then do 10 spins with a wiffle ball bat. The catch is that the veterans can distract all participants by any means necessary, including dumping water and Gatorade on those spinning. It's a lighthearted and fun way to call it a camp.
  • Aside from the high school teams taking in practice, the Rams had another special guest Wednesday: newly minted Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams.
  • Wednesday's practice was the final day of training camp open to the fans, but the Rams will be back at it Thursday afternoon for their final practice before traveling to Cleveland on Friday.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold played a preseason game in his hometown of Cleveland last season, he suffered a shoulder injury.

As Saffold and the Rams head back to Saffold's old stomping grounds for their third preseason game this year, Saffold looks poised to return from another shoulder injury.

"Of course I plan on playing," Saffold said. "I’ve felt good for awhile. I know they want to be super cautious and that’s fine but I’ve been working since I got hurt, so really I just hope this transition back onto the field won’t be that big of a transition. I feel in shape, I feel rested. I’m good all the way around."

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRodger Saffold is expected to start at right guard for the Rams.
Saffold suffered what he and the Rams call a "stinger" in his left shoulder in a training camp practice on Aug. 1. The stinger has been enough to keep Saffold on the sidelines since, and kept him out of the team's first two preseason games against Green Bay and New Orleans. He did return to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, taking part in individual drills but sitting out the 11-on-11 portion of the workout.

Although Saffold and the team have insisted it's a minor injury, all parties have opted for a cautious approach. Rightfully so, given Saffold's extensive injury history. And his shoulder was such a point of contention in the offseason that the Oakland Raiders backed out of a lucrative multi-year contract with Saffold when their doctors failed him on a physical because of it.

In no small part because of that history, the Rams made it clear to Saffold soon after the injury that they were in no hurry to get him back in the preseason. Saffold is entering his fifth season in the league and his third in Brian Schottenheimer's offense, so keeping up with the mental part of his job should be little problem.

"It was nowhere near as bad as last time, but as a coach you want to make sure you take care of your players," Saffold said. "They’ve seen me play so they know what I can do, so they say 'Why don’t you just sit this one out? Let’s just make sure you’re good so we don’t have any future problems that could really be a problem.' I just said OK."

It remains unclear whether Saffold will get to play against the Browns as the Rams continue to monitor him day to day. Saffold joked Tuesday that he's the only Ram who has yet to hit somebody in a different uniform and that he intends to test the willpower of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott this week in an effort to get back on the field.

Getting Saffold back would give the Rams a chance to have their projected starting offensive line together for the first time in a game. It would also give Saffold some needed reps at right guard.

Although Saffold showed well at his new position for the last part of the 2013 season, the sample size remains small. He is comfortable at the position. but spent the early parts of camp playing left tackle and both guard spots, rather than settling at his projected position.

The chance to get some work in preseason games should allow things to slow down for Saffold inside.

"You want to be able to be under control but still be able to play fast and physical," Saffold said. "Sometimes you can get too excited or overly excited and you move too fast and get yourself in bad positions. I’m able to recover some of those things, but I want to get my technique down pat to the point where it’s kind of easy when it comes to the game."

Rams Camp Report: Day 16

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
8:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • We can get to some of the happenings on the field in Tuesday's practice in a moment but the most important thing to take away from this workout wasn't so much what happened as who was participating. Coach Jeff Fisher alluded to the possibility of key starters Jake Long, Michael Brockers, James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold returning this week and all four took a step in that direction to varying degrees. As has been the case recently, Long was the most active of the group as he went through a full practice. All signs point to him playing against the Browns. Brockers was next in line, participating in his share of team drills as he comes off an ankle injury. He took most of the reps in his usual spot with the first team. Saffold did individual work but no team as the Rams bring him along slowly. But he said after practice that he's doing well and the team is simply being cautious. Laurinaitis did some running on the side and Fisher said he hasn't been ruled out for this weekend yet. We'll see where Brockers, Saffold and Laurinaitis are later in the week but there's at least a chance that all four could return. Also, cornerback Janoris Jenkins was back at full speed. He actually returned in practice last week but the Rams didn't want to have him play a game just a couple days after coming back to practice.
  • Amongst those sitting out Tuesday: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerbacks Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines and Darren Woodard (who did some side work), end Sammy Brown, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, offensive lineman Mike Person, center Demetrius Rhaney and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.
  • On the field, it was one of the hottest days of camp, perhaps the hottest and the workout was a bit sluggish. The offensive line, in particular, had its share of struggles. If you're looking for an individual standout, here's one from off the radar: cornerback Jarrid Bryant. With a trio of corners on the sideline during practice, Bryant took advantage of his opportunities. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Bryant had one sequence in which he came up with two interceptions and a pass breakup in a span of about six or seven plays.
  • Isiah Robertson, one of the Rams' greatest linebackers and a six time Pro Bowler, took in Tuesday's practice.
  • The Rams have their final open practice of the preseason Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET. That coincides with the official end of the training camp portion of the preseason.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Little more than a year after the Oakland Raiders used a third-round draft pick on offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, they released him.

It was Sept. 26, 2012, just one of a handful of days over the past couple of years now permanently etched in Barksdale's mind. The next was Sept. 27, 2012, a day later when the St. Louis Rams claimed him off waivers.

[+] EnlargeJoe Barksdale
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoTackle Joe Barksdale, drafted by Oakland in 2011, has found a home with the Rams and in St. Louis.
Barksdale arrived in St. Louis with enough raw talent to develop into the bedrock of an often in flux offensive line that he is today but without any of the self-belief necessary to get there.

"When I got here, I was a recently cut former draft pick with no confidence, not many technical skills," Barksdale said. "But I believe I'm here for a reason and I'm so happy to be here. I do believe that everything did happen for a reason, when it was supposed to and how it was supposed to."

What's happened in the nearly two years since Barksdale arrived in St. Louis is more than anyone knows. It's easy to look at the resume he's compiled and see a young player simply emerging as a solid right tackle providing durability to a line in desperate need of it.

But the road from there to here hasn't been as easy as it might seem.

When the Rams claimed Barksdale in 2012, they were simply searching for help on the offensive line after some injuries had struck. That's been a familiar refrain in recent seasons.

Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau saw the 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale as his next great reclamation project, if only he could get Barksdale to have the same belief.

For as much work as Barksdale needed on footwork, hand placement and understanding of angles, he needed regular reminders he could get there.

"His thing is more confidence in everything," Boudreau said. "Joe is his own worst critic. He's his own worst enemy. I tell him I will do all the worrying for you and you get out there and you play."

That confidence came quickly for Barksdale, who said he genuinely started buying into Boudreau's belief when he started at left tackle against Green Bay on Oct. 21, 2012. He started again the following week in London against New England and graded out well in both games.

After starting those two games and appearing in four more, Barksdale returned in 2013 primed to be the primary swing tackle behind Rodger Saffold and Jake Long. He spent part of his offseason working with Hall of Fame Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater; something he repeated this summer, and came back ready for whatever role was needed.

As it turned out, projected right tackle Saffold suffered an injury early in the preseason and again in Week 2 of the regular season. Before Barksdale was to start the next week against Dallas, tragedy struck.

Charles Fobbs, who Barksdale calls a mentor, second father, brother and coach since he was 13 years old, died in a car accident before the Rams played the Cowboys.

Barksdale was devastated by the loss and attended the funeral back home in Michigan in search of some peace of mind. When he returned to St. Louis, he found solace on the football field, in his teammates and from his coaches.

Boudreau, in particular, knew what Barksdale was going through. His father had passed away not long before Fobbs, and Boudreau was still reeling from his own loss. Boudreau offered daily encouragement and reminded Barksdale that the best way to get through a tough time is simply to do it.

"I said you have a job to do and when you're at work, it might be the best thing for you, it might be the best therapy for you," Boudreau said. "He kind of knew it was somebody walking his shoes. It's going to always hurt and I said the anniversary of that will be the same thing for you and when you go back to Michigan you'll see his family and it will be a tough time for you, but I think in his case, he's grown up more than anything since he's been a Ram."

With each practice and game, Barksdale grew as a player as he dedicated himself to improving. By the time the season was through, Barksdale had started 13 games and played in all 16. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded him as the team's second most productive lineman.

Amidst the revolving doors at other positions on the line, Barksdale remains steadfast on the right side. Boudreau points out Barksdale is no longer dwelling on mistakes. Barksdale has even set big goals for himself, starting with winning a Super Bowl, making the Pro Bowl and eventually the Hall of Fame.

In this training camp, Barksdale has been the one constant on the offensive line, playing with the starters at the same position every day.

"Joe's done a great job," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Joe's stepped in and played. He's played both sides for us, settled in on the right side. He's reliable, dependable, everything you want at right tackle. It was great timing for us, great timing for Joe, when he was let go and we had an opportunity to bring him in and he's done a great job."

After the season, Barksdale is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. More important, he's also in the midst of planning a wedding. He says he spends much more time thinking of the latter than the former when he's not practicing his newest hobby, the electric guitar.

Given his druthers, Barksdale would like to stay in St. Louis.

"Definitely," Barksdale said. "They gave me a second chance."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The annual #NFLRank project got underway Monday morning as a panel of 85 NFL analysts across our many platforms here went through the process of ranking the top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.

One member of the St. Louis Rams appears in today's initial reveal of Nos. 91-100. Linebacker James Laurinaitis checks in at No. 93 on the list as he appears for the second year in a row on the defensive side. Laurinaitis was No. 57 on the list in 2013.

Defense, No. 93, James Laurinaitis

Stats & Info: Laurinaitis has recorded 100 tackles in all five seasons of his NFL career. Only four other defenders have recorded 100 tackles in each of the last five seasons.

My take: Laurinaitis is never going to be the type of player to wow anyone with bone-rattling hits or uber-athletic splash plays. But he's about as solid as it gets in the middle. The tackle stats speak for themselves and also represent a nod to his durability as he has never missed a game in five NFL seasons. In some sense, Laurinaitis is taken for granted a bit by those who forget how poor the Rams were at his position in the years after London Fletcher's departure. Beyond the production, Laurinaitis is also the team's defensive leader and the guy other players turn to for help understanding the system. He's only 27 and though he counts a hefty $10.4 million against the cap this year, that number drops to a much more cap-friendly $4.025 million in 2015 and $6.175 million in 2016.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Barrett Jones is out for the rest of the preseason and likely beyond because of back surgery, coach Jeff Fisher confirmed Sunday afternoon.

"Barrett is going to be weeks away," Fisher said. "Barrett has had some minor surgery on his back so he will not participate in the preseason. Beyond that, I don't know."

Jones
Late last week, we covered the Rams' lack of experienced depth behind the starting offensive line with mention of Jones' back injury. At the time, I was told that Jones would be out for "awhile." Anytime a back surgery is involved, it's probably best not to take a guess at a possible return. In fact, it's probably best not to count on Jones returning at all at this season.

Jones' injury, combined with rookie Demetrius Rhaney's knee injury suffered in practice last week leaves the Rams thin at center moving forward. Fisher said Rhaney had an MRI on the knee and the results were better than expected, though Rhaney is also going to miss a chunk of time.

"We got good news," Fisher said. "We suspected the worst but got good news. He has no ligament damage whatsoever. The cartilage looks good, solid, no cartilage damage. He's got a severe bone bruise I guess I would classify it and he's going to be out for some time. These things typically take time.

"I can't tell you whether it's going to be four weeks or six weeks but I would not expect him back within the four week time period."

Without Jones and Rhaney, the Rams have turned to versatile lineman Mike Person to provide center insurance. Scott Wells is working as the starter and Tim Barnes remains solid as the top backup but Person worked with the third team offense in the middle against Green Bay on Saturday. Person also played left tackle and left guard in the game, playing all 71 offensive snaps in the game.

While the Rams don't have to make any snap decisions on Rhaney or Jones, they did lose running back Isaiah Pead to a torn ACL and will likely have a roster spot open to replace him. That spot could theoretically go to an offensive lineman.

"I think we are good right now," Fisher said. "We've got depth, we've got flexibility. We're going to look. This is a time you typically continue to evaluate the bottom half of your roster and watch the waiver wire and we'll make room with Isaiah's spot. If somebody is out there we'll consider it but we're not looking to replace position for a position."
ST. LOUIS -- After St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford stood in the pocket and fired a picture-perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks early in the second quarter, it looked on television like he turned to his sideline and yelled, "I'm back!"

After Saturday's 21-7 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, Bradford said those weren't his words; instead, he was shouting a popular meeting room catchphrase to fellow quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But even if Bradford didn't say it, he might as well have.

For someone who hasn't played in a live football game in 300 days after suffering a torn ACL in October 2013, Bradford's return against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday afternoon was mostly a success. If Bradford didn't want to boldly announce his return, his head coach had no problems doing so on his behalf.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Scott KaneSam Bradford completed 9 of 12 passes in his first game action since October 2013.
"Anybody that had questions about Sam’s condition, his physical condition, I think they were answered," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I was very pleased with his performance in the brief amount of time that he played. You see he had the fastball and the great throw to Brian [Quick] and also to Lance. I’m happy with his game. I know he’s excited that thing is clearly behind him now and we’ll move forward. That was encouraging."

Bradford didn't move the Rams up and down the field on his two series with the ease of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn't necessarily the goal considering Bradford hadn't played in a game since Oct. 20, 2013. No, the main objective for Bradford on Saturday afternoon had nothing to do with statistics and everything to do with getting him used to being back in the mix.

Fisher called Bradford off after two series and 18 snaps -- 12 pass plays and six run plays. Four more plays were wiped away by penalties.

Along the way, Bradford didn't come under too much pressure as the Rams clearly made a point of protecting him with quick, short throws, though some would argue that's just business as usual. Either way, Bradford held up just fine physically, taking only one hard hit courtesy of Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers.

"I knew I was going to take a hit or two today, that's just part of the game," Bradford said. "But it's always nice to get that first one under your belt knowing that everything is going to be OK."

That Bradford's final stat line looked the way it did was really just a bonus. He finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 127.4.

The first Bradford-led drive came with some ups and downs as he knocked off a little bit of rust. He hung in the pocket in the face of pressure to convert a fourth-down pass to tight end Jared Cook for 5 yards.

Two penalties and a short incompletion later, Bradford took his first deep shot when receiver Kenny Britt was open down the right sideline. The throw was a beat late and too wide, falling incomplete, which led to a punt two snaps later.

"I just missed it outside a little bit," Bradford said. "It was an opportunity for a big play, just got to beep it inbounds. I like the decision, just have to give him a better ball."

Whatever rust might have lingered on that misfire disappeared on Bradford's second series. On the team's lone scoring drive, Bradford went 4-of-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown. His two most impressive completions came within those four connections, including a 41-yarder to Quick on a ball that was a little high but still on target, and the touchdown to Kendricks.

On the touchdown pass, Bradford fired over the middle of the field to a seemingly covered Kendricks, but the ball had enough velocity on it that it cut through Green Bay's defense and led Kendricks to an open spot.

Bradford chose not to share what he actually shouted to the sideline in celebration, but he definitely sent a message.

"In the quarterback room we've kind of got something we say and I looked over at Schotty and gave him one of those," Bradford said. "So, it was just kind of a signal to him."

For Bradford, it's a long road between the second preseason game and a successful regular season, but Saturday's performance was clearly a step in the right direction.

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
7:35
PM ET

ST. LOUIS -- The fast-break offense of the Green Bay Packers put the St. Louis Rams on their heels from the opening kickoff, and the Packers never looked back in Saturday's second preseason contest.

Green Bay went on to a 21-7 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams dropped to 0-2 in the preseason.

Some more thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
  • Aside from a poorly timed and thrown misfire on a deep ball intended for receiver Kenny Britt, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's first game action in 300 days was a success. Bradford started and led two drives before calling it a day. I had him down for 22 snaps with 12 pass attempts, six run plays and four plays nullified by penalty. He finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 127.4. On those snaps, Bradford only took one real hit but it was a big one from Green Bay's Julius Peppers. Bradford bounced back up with no issues, though. Bradford's second drive was his best work of the day, including a nice throw over the middle to receiver Brian Quick for a 41-yard gain and a perfectly threaded throw to tight end Lance Kendricks for an 11-yard touchdown.
  • If anyone had flashbacks to the way the Rams closed the season in Seattle last year when watching the first-team offense attempt to run the ball, you're forgiven. The run blocking was nowhere to be found as Zac Stacy finished with 6 yards on six carries. The Rams definitely miss left tackle Jake Long and right guard Rodger Saffold in that area and, of course, they aren't game planning. Still, if you're going to be a run-first offense, you'd like to at least gain some traction there in preseason.
  • The Packers' first-team offense made it look easy against the Rams' top defense on its two drives to start the game. The Rams are playing vanilla schematically, sure, but the Packers aren't exactly showing all they have, either. The Rams generated little pass rush until the second defense entered and the corners and safeties sat back in soft coverage consistently. At one point, the Rams had both safeties lining up 20 yards off the line of scrimmage and dropping back further at the snap. Completions came easy for Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers from there.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks continues to impress. He entered before Michael Sam at left defensive end with the second defense and made the most of the opportunity. He had a sack and a couple of pressures before moving around in the second half. Sam was mostly nondescript before reaching Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn for a sack with about seven minutes and 25 seconds to play. Sam isn't standing out as much as Westbrooks but he's doing enough to stay in the picture. That battle will continue over the next couple of weeks.
  • No surprises on the list of Rams not playing Saturday, though it was a bit smaller than last week's. Cornerbacks, E.J. Gaines, Janoris Jenkins and Darren Woodard, safety Matt Daniels, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker James Laurinaitis, end Sammy Brown, center Demetrius Rhaney, offensive linemen Rodger Saffold, Barrett Jones and Brandon Washington, tackle Jake Long, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and end William Hayes were not in uniform. Jenkins, Laurinaitis, Saffold, Brockers and Long are the only starters in that group. The Rams were without 18 players and nine starters against New Orleans last week.

Rams Camp Report: Day 15

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
8:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams continued to turn up the dial on the physical approach to practice Thursday as coach Jeff Fisher indicated they would earlier this week. Fisher said his team needs work on the run game and they certainly got that work in this practice. That's been a familiar sight in the past two weeks as the Rams try to turn it up before the regular season arrives.
  • Some quick injury news. ... Fisher said left tackle Jake Long will not play this week against Green Bay but they are targeting next week against Cleveland to get him some game action. That falls in line with the plan for him from the beginning. ... Cornerback Janoris Jenkins got back to work Thursday and though he might not play this week, he went through team drills and is close to ready. ... Rookie center Demetrius Rhaney had the scariest moment of the day when he stayed down after his knee buckled on a field goal drill. Rhaney had to be taken off on a golf cart. Fisher said the initial indication was that Rhaney's injury wasn't as serious as first feared but he would still need an MRI. ... Fisher also said right guard Rodger Saffold is "close" to returning from a stinger injury.
  • On the field, there were some big plays and plenty of heavy collisions. Tight end Justice Cunningham continues to find himself in some of the bigger collisions in running drills. Lining up at fullback, Cunningham and end Eugene Sims had a train wreck during one drill in which the pads could be heard from about 100 yards away. Cunningham is certainly making his presence felt as a blocker. Quarterback Sam Bradford had a couple of nice hookups on deep balls, one down the sideline to receiver Brian Quick and another, better throw to tight end Lance Kendricks down the seam. Tight end Brad Smelley, who just joined the team earlier this week went up for a tough over the shoulder catch for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
  • Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, father of Rams receiver Emory Blake, attended Thursday's practice. He had to be a proud papa when he saw the younger Blake rise up for the catch of the day, snatching a touchdown out of a Cody Davis and Marcus Roberson double team. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was quick to voice his displeasure with the defense's inability to stop Blake.
  • Funny moment of the day: Quick tipped a ball to himself on a pass to the corner but came down out of bounds as the defense closed in around him. Tight end Jared Cook was nearby and quickly chastised Quick for not tipping the ball back to him. He was joking, of course but the delivery was perfect deadpan. Maybe you had to be there.
  • The Rams have no practice Friday as they finished preparations for Saturday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

Rams Camp Report: Day 13

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
9:30
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams followed a sluggish Monday practice with a physical Tuesday workout with plenty of work on the run game, some big collisions, and even a small skirmish. For the second time in this camp, defensive end Michael Sam found himself exchanging shoves with a teammate, this time offensive tackle Joe Barksdale. During a run blocking drill late in practice, Barksdale blocked Sam to the ground after the whistle. Sam took exception and went after Barksdale. The two were separated quickly.
  • Perhaps more entertaining than that is watching rookie Greg Robinson take part in the run blocking drills. You can tell the big man just feels at home when he gets to move downhill and wipe out a defender. One of the unfortunate souls in his way Tuesday was linebacker Johnny Millard. Robinson buried Millard after a short head start with the sound of impressed teammates serving as the sound track. We haven't really seen Robinson cut it loose yet in part because he's still learning but drills like that should certainly help open things up a bit.
  • Tight end Justice Cunningham is another one who drew some oohs and aahs from his teammates for his blocking in the run drills. Cunningham, working out of a fullback spot, came down hill and dropped the hammer a couple of times. He's battling Alex Bayer for a potential fourth tight end spot. Bayer has the leg up on the receiving side but Cunningham is ahead as a blocker. Should be an interesting battle.
  • Receivers Austin Franklin and Stedman Bailey had strong outings in the one-on-one passing drills. Franklin caught back-to-back touchdowns against Rodney McLeod with some sharp route running. Bailey continues to consistently get open and make plays when the opportunity arises.
  • On the flip side, cornerbacks Brandon McGee and Greg Reid had some impressive pass breakups in seven-on-seven. McGee climbed the ladder on a deep ball to receiver Brian Quick and though it appeared Quick had him beat, McGee stuck with it and jarred the ball loose for an incompletion. He's battled an ankle injury in camp but seems to be rounding back to form.
  • The funniest moment of the day came after the veterans departed practice, leaving only the rookies on the field. Running back Tre Mason ran into the flat where a pass was thrown to him but apparently the sun got in his eyes and it hit Mason in the chest. Problem was, Mason never saw it, so it hit him in the chest and fell to the ground. The miscue brought chuckles from coaches and teammates.
  • CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Darren Woodard, S Matt Daniels, FB Kadeem Jones, LB James Laurinaitis, OL Barrett Jones, OL Brandon Washington, OL Rodger Saffold, DT Michael Brockers and DL William Hayes did not participate in Tuesday's practice.
  • The Rams have an afternoon special teams practice scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time. That workout is closed to the public.

Rams Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
9:05
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams got back to work Monday afternoon in what was a mostly uneventful practice. As promised by coach Jeff Fisher, the team did get some players back to practice in some capacity. But key veterans such as linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) did not return to work. Among those getting back in the mix were defensive tackle Kendall Langford and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins did a little work on the side before practice and individual but not much else. Cornerback Darren Woodard was a new addition to the not practicing list. And tight end Justice Cunningham, who appears to be in a heated contest for a potential fourth tight end spot, limped off and rode to the locker room on the back of a golf cart.
  • Unhappy with his team's 14 penalties against the Saints, Fisher made his team run a sprint for every player who committed a penalty. That essentially meant the whole team had to run, though some more than others.
  • As for the practice, it was one of the team's more sluggish workouts of this camp, which is probably to be expected after a two-day layoff and a preseason game. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill got his share of work and had some good moments, including some nice throws down the seam in early team and 7-on-7s to tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. The first offense appeared out of sync a bit as it had multiple near misses on deep connections and an occasional drop.
  • Cornerback Marcus Roberson hasn't had many shining moments in camp but showed some deep cover skills against Chris Givens on a deep ball during team. Roberson hasn't distinguished himself like other corners battling for roster spots and needs to pick it up to insert himself into the race. ... Rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert had some ups and quite a few downs in his preseason debut against the Saints but had some good throws in Monday's practice. On one, he dropped a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to receiver Jordan Harris.
  • The Rams don't quite have their projected starting offensive line in place yet with Saffold out but they're getting closer. Offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells were back with the first team and in far more than just a cameo Monday. Both appear to be trending toward playing preseason games as they come off knee surgery (Long) and illness (Wells). They took the bulk of the work with the first team and appear to be moving well.
  • Quick roster note: the Rams signed tight end Brad Smelley to take the spot vacated by injured tight end Mason Brodine. Brodine suffered a fractured ankle against New Orleans and is out for the season.
  • The Rams are back at it Tuesday with a 5:30 p.m. CT practice. That workout is free and open to the public at Rams Park.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher sat down and watched his team's preseason opening loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, he saw the usual array of good and bad from his team.

"There was some good things, some good efforts, some good plays, no turnovers," Fisher said. "Penalties became the common theme through the game, after we subbed, as did some mental mistakes and some missed tackles and things like that. So clearly a lot to learn from as we told the team. We’re still kind of in the process of grading things and correcting things with them. All in all, I think it was a good exercise."

 The preseason "exercises" quite often end with similar assessments from all coaches around the league. At this early stage, there's little use in fretting over the mistakes of a team that was without 18 players, nine of whom are projected to be among the team's 22 starters and others who are expected to play valuable contributor roles.

But yes, it's clear the Rams have some work to do over the next three weeks, especially when it comes to improving tackling (and in turn, run defense) and eliminating penalties.

Poor tackling is a common theme around the league at this time of year. The first preseason game often provides the first attempt to tackle for real. The Rams were clearly rusty in that regard, but Fisher didn't want to use that as an excuse because his team works on tackling form throughout the week.

That didn't translate against the Saints as Rams defenders missed numerous tackles resulting in big gains. The most obvious was safety Cody Davis' miss on Saints running back Mark Ingram on a play that turned into a 22-yard touchdown run. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus had the Rams down for 10 missed tackles in the game, including four by linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong.

Missed tackles cleared the path for a big rushing day for the Saints, who posted 123 yards and 5.1 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Fisher attributed the rushing yards to a combination of the missed tackle, a missed assignment here or there and a lack of game plan to stop the run. All are things he believes can be corrected in short order.

"A couple tackles to the hole that we missed but some guys doing some things that they hadn’t done before in the scheme," Fisher said. "But not a big concern. We really didn’t load up, stop the run or pressure to do things. We got caught in a few pass stunts, which created some seams in the defense, which obviously in a normal game situation you don’t think those will happen.”

Similar problems arose last preseason and into the opening weeks of the year before the Rams course corrected midway through the season to finish ninth in the league in run defense. Of course, they need to be on an expedited schedule to fix those issues considering they open Week 1 against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.

As for the penalties, it's another familiar issue around the league in the preseason. Against the Saints, the Rams had 14 penalties for 118 yards.

Again, Fisher attributed many of Friday night's penalties to subbing in young players and the absence of many of his starters.

"When you have nine starters that don’t play for whatever reason you end up playing a lot of players earlier in the ball game and when that happens some of the inexperience translates into penalties and we had way too many penalties," Fisher said. "I think all but two you can make the case were legit and we have to learn from them."

The idea that the Rams can fix their tackling woes is a much easier sell than the penalties, however. It's an issue the Rams had in the past two preseasons, and Fisher often gave the same explanation for them. But when the season started and the starters were on the field, the deluge of yellow flags rarely stopped. The Rams have been penalized 251 times in their two seasons under Fisher, the most in the league.

So while the tackling and run defense should get better, recent history tells us penalty flags thrown against the Rams will remain a common sight when the real games begin.

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints open the preseason Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:


1. An aggressive defensive approach? The preseason opener doubles as the first opportunity to see the highly-anticipated Rams' defense under the guidance of coordinator Gregg Williams. To add to the intrigue, Williams is facing his former team, the Saints. Reunions happen all the time in the NFL but rarely do they come with the hard feelings that apparently still exist between Williams and the Saints. Williams, of course, was part of the Saints' staff and the supposed ringleader of the bounty scandal which resulted in his yearlong suspension and similar punishments for Saints coach Sean Payton and assistant Joe Vitt. Williams is known for his aggressive, exotic blitzes and while it normally is common procedure to hold back on those things in the preseason, Williams is anything but conventional. He undoubtedly has plenty of schemes he'd like his charges to work on in the preseason, but it'll be worth keeping an eye on the defensive approach to see if Williams goes a little above and beyond the usual vanilla preseason tactics.

2. Sorting out the running backs: It doesn't look like there's much competition for the Rams' starting running back job as Zac Stacy has been largely handling those duties in camp. But the Rams have some things to figure out behind Stacy and coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week he'd like to get each back about a half-dozen carries in this game. Benny Cunningham is the leader in the clubhouse to be Stacy's primary backup, but preseason games present prime opportunities for players to make moves up the depth chart, especially at this position. Cunningham has been sharp in practice, but rookie Tre Mason has also had some good work, especially this week. Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds also remain in the mix. Each back will get his chance to make an early statement as the Rams work through building their depth chart at the position.

3. First glance at Sam: Rookie defensive end Michael Sam has had his share of ups and downs in training camp, starting off strong and leveling off of late. But Sam figures to get an extended opportunity to make a good impression Friday night. The Rams, under Fisher, have rarely played their starters much in the first preseason game and with valuable backup end William Hayes still working back from offseason surgeries, Sam should get a lot of snaps. It's expected Sam will work at left end on defense but also keep an eye out for him on special teams, particularly on the return units where coach John Fassel believes Sam has major potential. Of course, Sam is going to get plenty of competition for a roster spot so the other backup ends are also worth watching, especially undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks.

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