Tonight will be the first preseason game of the upcoming season for the St. Louis Rams against the Oakland Raiders. There’s a lot to look forward to – a new quarterback, a young offensive line, and a highly-anticipated defense. Here are the top five things to keep a close eye on in Friday’s game.
1. Offensive Line
It’s pretty obvious that this will be the most important aspect of the entire preseason as we head into the season opener on September 13th. This will be the second year for Greg Robinson at left tackle and Roger Saffold at left guard. From there, it’s a whole lot of uncertainty. The center position looks to be between Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes but no stater has been named yet. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said he’s looking for someone to take over the leadership role at center for the offensive line. Jamon Brown has impressed many at right guard and Rob Havenstein is a HUGE asset at right tackle. Friday will be the first look at them in a real game experience and the coaches hope that their talent will prove itself.
Finally, the Rams can say they have a healthy quarterback headed into preseason and no concern over any previous injuries. Foles, fresh off a new extension with the team, will have a chance to show off his skills with St. Louis for a series or two. But the more interesting area to watch will be who takes over the depth chart. This team knows what Austin Davis has in his skill set, but will he show something new? Can Case Keenum be the guy to step in when needed or did Les Snead and Jeff Fisher see something in Sean Mannion that we have not yet. All four will have an opportunity to impress the head coach Friday night.
3. The Secondary Position
This seems like a strange area to keep an eye on, but keep in mind this area of the defense is still very young. The senior of this group is Janoris Jenkins at age 26, so Gregg Williams will have his hands full with this group. But, one thing is for sure, it’s a hard-hitting, explosive and smart-minded group of athletes that can take this defense to the next level. With E.J Gaines still injured, the reigns will be handed over to Jenkins, Johnson, McDonald, McLeod, Mark Barron, and LaMarcus Joyner. Will there be a depth player that steps up? We will see how this group competes against the Radiers offense.
4. Offensive Coaching Scheme
Brian Schottenheimer has moved on and the hope for a more explosive offense is in the hands of Frank Cignetti. Jeff Fisher has made it clear that with Gurley, Mason, and Cunningham, this will be a running emphasized scheme. But, don’t overlook the ability of Nick Foles to heave it downfield to Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, Steadman Bailey and Tavon Austin. What will Cignetti have in his back pocket? Will he enhance Tavon Austin’s talent? Will he bring Nick Foles back to his 2011 days? Keep an eye on the play calls Fisher and company experiment with.
5. Running Backs
There will be no Todd Gurley on Friday as he continues recovery from ACL surgery. The second season for Tre Mason, another season for Benny Cunningham, and a healthy Isaiah Pead will be an interesting core of running backs for the team. Mason was stellar last season but how will he fair in his sophomore year? Will Benny Cunningham be able to handle a larger load of play time while Gurley recovers? What will Pead deliver and can he stay healthy? All of these questions will be something that the Rams and fans will be interested to see. All will not be answered on Friday but you will get a good idea in the first couple series of the game.