Yes, there were plenty of fumbles, penalties and sloppy play on Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome. But that was to be expected on a field littered with college free agents, rookie draft picks and a few veterans thrown in.
With the world champion Baltimore Ravens flying into St. Louis for the last preseason game, Rams coach Jeff Fisher used the opportunity to get his youngsters more “live reps” and allow his staff, along with general manager Les Snead, more tape to view when evaluating talent. While the Ravens didn’t play any of their starters, the Rams began the game with nine of their 22 starters who will go against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8.
Thursday night was tailor-made for the Rams’ young talent, a last chance to impress the decision-makers. Several players indeed showed flashes with the skill set to ascend, and others kept the officials busy by amassing a laundry list of yellow hankies.
“ I think Coach … through our first two or our second and third game … I, mean we had 20 penalties in two games. You’re not going to win many football games when you have that many penalties,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I don’t know what it was tonight, but I think we had nine in the first half. Eleven, that’s inexcusable. If we want to be the team that we can be, penalties is the quickest way to shoot yourself in the foot, and they’re things that we just can’t have.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a focus thing. I don’t think we can use the fact that we’re young. It doesn’t matter how young we are, we still can’t make those mistakes.”
A few of the rookies and second-year players who looked good Thursday night:
Wide receiver Brian Quick put on a show and flashed the ability to climb the ladder and attack the ball at the highest point while playing above the defensive back. He hauled in a 26-yard reception for a big play and moved the chains. That reception is an example of what Rams coaches and fans are waiting to see every day and, eventually, every Sunday. Quick finished the night with five receptions for 60 yards, a 12-yard average, and received some encouragement and a pep talk from future Hall of Famer Torry Holt.
“He was just telling me to continue to grow, continue to build off of what you are doing each week,” Quick said. “That helped me. That was great.”
Last week, Fisher mentioned getting the running game back on track now that improvements have been made in the areas of anticipation and timing. To that end, running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, plus Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds, set the tone and the run opened up the pass vs. the Ravens. Stacy scored his first touchdown as a professional with a 1-yard rush. Finishing the night with 11 carries for 37 yards, he showed power with his inline running skills and the ability to move the pile.
But the undrafted rookie running back from Middle Tennessee stole the show. Cunningham displayed explosiveness in bouncing it to the edge, basically shish-kabobed a Ravens defender at one point. He was the talk of the game, finishing as the leading rusher with eight carries for 76 yards (9.5 average). Cunningham also led the team in preseason rushing with 120 yards on only 20 carries (6.2 average).
“You know … the young running backs did well,” Fisher said. “Benny’s quick and powerful and same with Zac. Way to keep the chains moving. You like to see the second-and-5’s and the second-and-4’s, which was good.
“I thought defensively, guys made plays. We didn’t have the ability most of the game to match up with them. They went goal-line personnel and we stayed base defense. We kept them out of the end zone. We were out at nickel for some time during the half. We stayed base and got off the field. I thought, and we’ll look at the tape, but thought we saw some improvement out of some of the guys on special teams. It looks like our core group of ‘teams’ is starting to take shape.”
News and Notes
*Tavon Austin’s punt return average of 34.7 yards was tops in the NFL for the 2013 preseason.
* The Rams will take a few days off to get their legs back, get their minds right and start the focus on Arizona. Off Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, the Rams will practice Sunday afternoon.