After getting in more work last week than they had anticipated, St. Louis Rams' starters won't see as much action in Thursday's preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens as originally expected. Head coach Jeff Fisher made it clear this week that his original plan to play the starters for more than a half in the finale would be adjusted "ever so slightly."
So fans expecting to see Sam Bradford and Chris Long for an extended time will be disappointed. Here's what we can expect:
1. Battle for the Back-up Neither Kellen Clemens nor Austin Davis has done much to distinguish themselves this preseason. Thursday night will be their last chance to try and impress. Starting Monday, both will see their practice reps dramatically decrease and their game responsibilities limited to looking good in a ball cap holding a clipboard.
While the Rams are hardly unique in a league filled with less-than-stellar back-up quarterbacks, the coaching staff would like to see someone emerge from this competition who would instill at least a little confidence should the need arise for them to get game snaps.
2. Watch the line The offensive line still has two spots at least somewhat up for grabs. Rodger Saffold is the incumbent at right tackle, but he's been injured and Barksdale has more than held his own. Barksdale missed last week's game in Denver to his own injury. How each handles the Ravens' pass rush could determine who is the week one starter.
On the inside, the Rams are struggling to get a push for their running game. Neither Harvey Dahl or Scott Wells is being significantly pushed, but there is a wide open battle for the other guard spot. Chris Williams is a former first round pick of the Chicago Bears, but Shelley Smith is getting the better grades, though not by much. This is a key position for the Rams offense. The Rams have to get some space for their running game to operate, and they can ill afford having pass rushers coming free up the middle and destroying Bradford's pocket.
3. Can Brian Quick break into the third receiver spot? Quick has yet to get first-team snaps this preseason, but Austin Pettis hasn't shown any ability to get separation from defensive backs. Chris Givens and Tavon Austin are etched in stone, but for this Rams' offense to be truly explosive, the third wide receiver has to be a viable option.
4. Who will be the odd man out at safety? Only rookie TJ McDonald has really distinguished himself this preseason. Rodney McLeod has played well in place of Darian Stewart, who missed much of camp with leg injuries. Stewart didn't help his cause with some shoddy tackling in the Green Bay game before exiting. McLeod has already been described by Fisher as a player "we can trust." Whichever one best fits that description after Thursday will be the week one starter.
5. Special teams and fourth quarter performance These situations will feature the players fighting to make the 53-man roster. Players like WR James Veltung and TE Zach Potter have to prove their worth.
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