Kevin Nogle (KN): It's been fairly quiet around the Rams this preseason, with there seeming to be no big news stories whatsoever. Well, I guess other than losing your starting quarterback for the second straight season. Are the Rams really content going into the season with Shaun Hill under center? How has he looked in the preseason?
3k, Turf Show Times: Yes, the Rams are really going into the with Shaun Hill under center. I'd be surprised if the Rams make a move for a starting replacement (Mark Sanchez, for example) only because it would cost so much. The Rams would be without any leverage in negotiations with another team for the few options that would be acceptable starters. Throw in the questions as to (a) whether they'd be much better than Hill, (b) their knowledge and understanding of Brian Schottenheimer's incredibly risk-averse offense and (c) the fact that the Rams would be losing a draft pick that would offer a player who would be a Ram for a much longer time, and it just wouldn't make a ton of sense. That being said, I don't think that Austin Davis or Garrett Gilbert are reliable backups so I could see the Rams adding someone more experienced to play behind Hill. Bottom line is this is a problem of the Rams' making. They never prepared for it, and now they're paying for it. Big time.
KN: On the play where Sam Bradford was injured, left tackle Jake Long badly missed his block, leading to the hit. Was that an outlier? How has the Dolphins 2008 number one overall pick looked this preseason as he comes back from a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee?
3k: It has been an outlier. He was very reliable when healthy last year, so there wasn't reason for concern when he finally made it back on the field last weekend. There's a fair question to be asked as to whether he should have been immediately inserted into the starting gig without a tune up in the minors, to borrow from baseball, but Rams fans have had a lot of questions about the coaching staff that are going to remain unanswered.
KN: How has Johnny Football....wait, wrong ESPN story. How has Michael Sam looked, and will he make the 53-man roster?
3k: He's played very well. For a seventh-round pick, he's outplayed his draft stock by a huge margin. Problematically for Sam, he might not be the best depth DE the Rams picked up this offseason. UDFA Ethan Westbrooks, who has played with the unit above Sam on the depth chart, has also been incredibly productive. There are two issues at play here. One, the Rams are stacked at DE already. Secondly, both have likely played their way into being picked up by another team if they don't make the Rams' final roster. So there's a risk in helping an opposing team out a la George Selvie, who was cut by the Rams four years ago and is now starting in Dallas...which Rams fans were painfully made aware of with his sack in week 3 last year as the Cowboys pounded the Rams 31-7. So I would categorize Sam and Westbrooks as luxury picks and I'm not sure the Rams have space for those kind of moves in 2014.
(Note: All the bullshit surrounded Sam hasn't had an effect on the team. It has, however, spawned more bullshit. It's the classic example of how football media is very good at creating a story and then covering the creation and the creator itself rather than the story, as that wouldn't pick up nearly as large a viewing audience or as many page clicks. Credit the Rams for handling things professionally.)
KN: Can you give us a breakdown of the wide receiver position for the Rams? It seems like one big question mark at this point, with no one really establishing themself as the go-to guy.
3k: I certainly can't argue with that assessment. Here's where the Rams stand at WR:
- Tavon Austin - Hands are an issue, and obviously at his size he's not going to be able to body people out of the way...but you can't teach speed. And he's got it in both aspects: quickness and top gear. We're definitely hoping to get more out of him than we did last season, but Brian Schottenheimer can hamstring anyone so the expectations aren't all that high.
- Kenny Britt - Think about this. Rams fans are excited about a "veteran" receiver who racked up a whopping 11 catches for 96 yards last year...sympathy helps. I'll admit he's looked fine in training camp, but that's training camp. If there's a "wait and see" category, he'd be in it.
- Brian Quick - He came in a small school 2012 draft selection full of promise and hope. He's now a 2014 option full of promise and hope. For a second round pick, he's taking an awful long time to find the field. Rams fans are torn here. He's big, and that shows. You can't get around 6'3", 220 easily. But that's something that's been missing from the field for the Rams for a long time.The fact it's taken this long...is worrisome. Like Britt, he's been great this offseason, including the Browns game in which he caught four passes for 47 yards. But that's an anomaly to this point in his career. He's in the "wait and see" bin with Britt.
- Stedman Bailey - Tavon Austin's college teammate has a dedicated fan base. I understand why. For a sub 6' option who's not quick or fast, he's easy to like. But his athleticism and understanding of space keep him in the mix in the NFL after a career as a college standout. But Rams fans awfully optimistic over a guy who caught 17 passes for 226 yards in his rookie season. Again, when the bar's set low, it's easy to get excited over mediocrity. Throw in a four-game suspension to start the year, because Rams. Sigh.
- Chris Givens - Explosive in year one (five straight weeks of a 50+ yard catch), disappointing in year two. He went from 42/698 to 34/569...and led the Rams' wideouts in yards with those 569 yards in 2013. This year is a question of whether he can find his previous form or if he's sliding into a permanent supporting role. But the Browns game reminded us of what he's capable of catching a short pass from Austin Davis and turning it into a 75-yard TD run.
- Austin Pettis - scarily, he showed the strongest rapport with Sam Bradford early last year. He's not outstanding at anything, but he's got a knack at being available in key moments. For someone who's not all that overwhelming physically, that's problematic...
They might stash an extra WR on the final 53-man to supplant Bailey during his suspension, but otherwise that's your 2014 Rams WR corps. Primed for a breakout...since 2008.
KN: This is the final preseason game, which means it's the game where the depth players take nearly all of the snaps. Who from the the group of lesser known players should Dolphins fans be watching? Any UDFAs or late-rounders making an impact?
Not really. The run blocking has been subpar all preseason (including the starters) which has wasted a strong RB corps of Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Tre Mason and Trey Watts, who's a likely victim of the next round of cuts. The passing game has been decent and looked really sharp against the Browns, but there's not a ton there. I guess I'd nominate TE Alex Bayer. He's been impressive as a receiving threat, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has a strong game against you guys.
Defensively, Sam and Westbrooks are in a roster battle, so they're a big storyline. Cornerback is also an area Rams fans are watching as Trumaine Johnson is sidelined for the first third of the season or so with a knee injury he sustained against the Browns. So beyond Janoris Jenkins and rookie Lamarcus Joyner, it's a gaggle of Brandon McGee (who I figure is a lock for the 53-man, though some would argue that point), E.J. Gaines (who as a Missouri product has a ton of backing among Rams fans), Greg Reid (yes, Florida St.'s Greg Reid), Marcus Roberson (who actually started a preseason game leading many to think the coaches prefer him to these alternatives), and Darren Woodard. All have flashed, so it's tough to really feel confident about projecting the makeup of this unit for the 53-man, so I'd just point to the group as one to watch tomorrow night.
A big thank you to 3k for taking the time to give us a better look at the Rams.