5 Things to watch for in the Rams' preseason opener - KMOV.com

5 Things to watch for in the Rams' preseason opener

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St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looks for a open receiver during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt By Belo Content KMOV St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looks for a open receiver during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013. UPI/Bill Greenblatt By Belo Content KMOV
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St. Louis Rams Robert Steeples runs a pass play practice during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt By BILL GREENBLATT St. Louis Rams Robert Steeples runs a pass play practice during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013. UPI/Bill Greenblatt By BILL GREENBLATT
St. Louis Rams Tavon Austin keeps his eye on a ball thrown to him by quarterback Sam Bradford during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt By BILL GREENBLATT St. Louis Rams Tavon Austin keeps his eye on a ball thrown to him by quarterback Sam Bradford during training camp at the team practice facility in Earth City , Missouri on August 1, 2013. UPI/Bill Greenblatt By BILL GREENBLATT

(FootballStL) – The St. Louis Rams open up the 2013 preseason Thursday against the Cleveland Browns, kicking off what seems to be the most anticipated campaign since last making the playoffs in 2004.

After having the best in-division record in the NFC West in 2012, the Rams hope to take the next step this season and make the postseason.

And while Thursday’s game doesn’t officially count, there are a number of things to look out for as the team ramps up for the regular season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8.

Here are five things to watch:

1. The Rookies.

The most exciting thing about the preseason opener is getting to see the rookies take the field for the first time. And after what most consider to be a very successful draft, the anticipation to watch this batch of Rams rookies couldn’t be much higher. Is Tavon Austin the playmaker everyone seems to believe? Will Alec Ogletree be the answer to the Rams’ annual void at outside linebacker? Can T.J. McDonald carry over his great training camp into the games? Will Zac Stacy contribute at running back? These are all questions that will begin being answered Thursday night.

2. The running back situation

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher on Tuesday said Daryl Richardson would start against the Browns. Fisher said the decision was made because he played “significantly more last year than anybody.” But Fisher has repeatedly said the position is up for grabs.

“We haven’t ruled anybody out from that matter. But we’re going to try to get as many carries as we can,” he said.

That means second-year back Isaiah Pead, rookie Zac Stacy and Terrance Gannaway all have a chance to make a good impression.

“Out of fairness to them, you want them all to have an opportunity to run behind the first line because that’s a fair evaluation - and run against good opponents,” Fisher said.

Let’s see if that happens Thursday night.

3. Bradford’s new weapons

The Rams went into the 2013 offseason clearly lacking some offensive playmakers, and all indications show they addressed those needs in a big way. Other than drafting the aforementioned Tavon Austin, the Rams signed former Tennessee Titan Jared Cook to a five-year, $35 million deal in hopes he’ll hold down the team’s tight end spot for the foreseeable future. The Rams also drafted Stedman Bailey, Austin’s teammate at West Virginia, in the third round. How well Bradford develops chemistry with his new weapons early may determine whether the offense finally takes a step forward this season.

4. Brian Quick

Blessed with size, speed and strength that no one else on the roster has, the second-year receiver has been under the microscope since the day the Rams drafted him in the second round of the 2012 draft. But consistency has been an issue since day one and rumors were rampant the talented receiver was having trouble learning plays. But word out of camp is Quick has been working his tail off and had his best practices of training camp this week. But will that finally translate into games? We could find out Thursday.

5. Who’s winning the left guard battle?

One of the biggest questions entering the 2013 season is who will start for the Rams at left guard: Shelly Smith or Chris Williams? Williams, a former Chicago Bears first-round pick and reclamation project, has been in an intense position battle with Smith, who started a number of games at guard last year after former Ram Rok Watkins got hurt. Thursday’s game will be the first big test for both men in their battle for the starting spot.

“They’re coming together. We’re alternating the left guard spot everyday and it’s coming together,” Fisher recently said. “I’m sure Cleveland’s going to have a lot to prove in the first preseason game.”  

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