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Rams rewind: Preseason opener

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints on Friday night offered plenty of bizarre moments, including a wild finish that yielded a 26-24 Saints victory.

Some leftover thoughts on the game after watching it again (unfortunately on the TV broadcast since the All-22 is not yet available):

  • Defensive end Robert Quinn only played a handful of snaps, with the Rams using him exclusively on obvious third-down passing situations and on one fourth down when New Orleans went for it. He was his usual, disruptive self but was unable to get home as the Saints clearly made it a point of getting the ball out quick.

  • Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson split his time between left guard and left tackle, starting the game on the inside. It appeared Robinson was responsible for allowing a sack early in the game when he kicked out on a block when he was supposed to block down to the inside. Coach Jeff Fisher confirmed as much Saturday. Fisher called it a communication issue, something that Robinson probably won't struggle with as much when veterans Jake Long and Scott Wells return to his flanks. But aside from that, Robinson seemed to handle himself just fine. Even kicking outside to tackle, Robinson looked comfortable protecting the edge. Granted, it came against the third team defense but it was still a positive step for the young lineman.

  • Fellow first-round pick Aaron Donald also continued to show why he's earned rave reviews in camp. He was his usual quick self off the snap and spent plenty of time in the Saints' backfield. The Rams want to be an aggressive, up the field unit but one thing worth watching is whether the Rams will have to get him to dial back his push a little in some running situations. It's strange to say because Donald is at his best pushing up the field but there were a couple of times where he seemed to take himself out of the play because he was in the backfield so quickly and the Saints sent an extra blocker over to keep him from blowing up the play. It may not matter in the real games, though, because the Rams have the benefit of picking and choosing their spots with Donald behind Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers.

  • As suspected at first blush, cornerback E.J. Gaines did have a strong performance. He started and played a lot and spent most of the evening around the ball. His instincts to read the play and react allow him to get to the ball fast. He's putting himself in a good position to win a roster spot.

  • Two of the team's prized undrafted rookies are also beginning to make their cases. Tight end Alex Bayer has been making plays since the spring but looked faster and more athletic when he was able to cut it loose in a game. He was solid as a blocker, too. Ethan Westbrooks, who could push for a ninth defensive line roster spot, also was active. He chased ball carriers down the field and made three tackles but also flashed his pass-rushing potential. Westbrooks doesn't play special teams like Michael Sam does but he has the versatility to play inside and out, which could help his cause.

  • Rookie running back Tre Mason got 15 carries -- more than the Rams would have liked -- and he had some good moments. There were a couple of runs where Mason looked like he made the wrong read and bounced it outside costing himself yards, but he seemed to settle in as the game wore on. Perhaps the most impressive play of his night was a blitz pickup in the second half when he stood up a pass-rusher as if he'd been doing it for years. That's one way to fast track himself onto the field more as a rookie.

  • It was clear the Rams had issues with tackling. So did the Saints. We've covered that ground already. But it was particularly noticeable with linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. Each time the Rams missed a tackle it led to a big gain. They can scheme ways to better defend the run, and they will when the season starts, but Armstrong doesn't look ready to be a full-time linebacker just yet. Some are wondering about an expanded role for him in the defense, and that could still happen, but don't expect it to be a starting down-to-down scenario. The Rams defense, in general, was missing many key components, but middle linebacker James Laurinaitis' absence was the most glaring.

  • It should be no surprise that defensive back Lamarcus Joyner made a positive, physical first impression. He proved a solid open-field tackler and looks to have the makings of an outstanding gunner on punt teams. On the first punt of the night, Joyner worked past two blockers and pinned the returner to the other side of the field where he was promptly forced out of bounds.

  • There's still plenty to sort out among the backups on the offensive line. Mike Person, Davin Joseph and Tim Barnes look poised to be the top backups beyond the starting five after getting the first opportunity against the Saints.