EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For most NFL teams, the third preseason game is the closest thing the exhibition season offers to a dress rehearsal.
Those plans include the team's starters playing the bulk of the first half, including a handful of players who are returning this week from injury.
"Really, our hope is to play the first half," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Some guys may come out just a little sooner, but that’ll be our guidelines, to try and get the starters to play at least a half.”
Long is scheduled to play in a game for the first time since suffering a torn ACL and MCL at the end of the 2013 season. He's been practicing for most of the past couple of weeks and is right on the schedule the Rams initially set for his return.
Saffold has been working his way back from a stinger injury suffered in early August. He has been getting full reps in team drills this week and is also expected to return.
Assuming Long and Saffold come back, the Rams will have their first-team offensive line together for the first time in this preseason.
The same can be said of the secondary, where Jenkins is returning from a hamstring injury.
"I’m kind of excited about getting the secondary together for the first time this year," Fisher said. "That’s going to be a good thing. [Cornerback] Lamarcus [Joyner] will line up and play in the slot for us, then of course it’s good to get Jake and Rodger back for the first time.”
That leaves linebacker James Laurinaitis as the only projected starter with an uncertain status as the team heads to Cleveland. Laurinaitis is bouncing back from an ankle injury, but has been getting more work in practice each day this week. His status is likely to be a game-time decision, but if he doesn't play against the Browns, he almost certainly will play against Miami in the preseason finale.
Beyond the work of the starters, Fisher and his staff have plenty to evaluate with the backups as they begin to make roster decisions. Rosters must be trimmed from 90 to 75 by Tuesday.
After that, don't be surprised if the Rams starters get even more work against the Dolphins as part of Fisher's preferred method of gradually building snaps throughout the preseason.
"We probably will play more in the fourth game because we like to build reps," Fisher said. "But again, if you go to the back end of the roster, we’re looking for guys that are competing for spots. We’re looking for improvement out of the younger group of players on special teams. We've got to minimalize our special-teams penalties."