EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints open the preseason Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:
1. An aggressive defensive approach? The preseason opener doubles as the first opportunity to see the highly-anticipated Rams' defense under the guidance of coordinator Gregg Williams. To add to the intrigue, Williams is facing his former team, the Saints. Reunions happen all the time in the NFL but rarely do they come with the hard feelings that apparently still exist between Williams and the Saints. Williams, of course, was part of the Saints' staff and the supposed ringleader of the bounty scandal which resulted in his yearlong suspension and similar punishments for Saints coach Sean Payton and assistant Joe Vitt. Williams is known for his aggressive, exotic blitzes and while it normally is common procedure to hold back on those things in the preseason, Williams is anything but conventional. He undoubtedly has plenty of schemes he'd like his charges to work on in the preseason, but it'll be worth keeping an eye on the defensive approach to see if Williams goes a little above and beyond the usual vanilla preseason tactics.
2. Sorting out the running backs: It doesn't look like there's much competition for the Rams' starting running back job as Zac Stacy has been largely handling those duties in camp. But the Rams have some things to figure out behind Stacy and coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week he'd like to get each back about a half-dozen carries in this game. Benny Cunningham is the leader in the clubhouse to be Stacy's primary backup, but preseason games present prime opportunities for players to make moves up the depth chart, especially at this position. Cunningham has been sharp in practice, but rookie Tre Mason has also had some good work, especially this week. Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds also remain in the mix. Each back will get his chance to make an early statement as the Rams work through building their depth chart at the position.
3. First glance at Sam: Rookie defensive end Michael Sam has had his share of ups and downs in training camp, starting off strong and leveling off of late. But Sam figures to get an extended opportunity to make a good impression Friday night. The Rams, under Fisher, have rarely played their starters much in the first preseason game and with valuable backup end William Hayes still working back from offseason surgeries, Sam should get a lot of snaps. It's expected Sam will work at left end on defense but also keep an eye out for him on special teams, particularly on the return units where coach John Fassel believes Sam has major potential. Of course, Sam is going to get plenty of competition for a roster spot so the other backup ends are also worth watching, especially undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks.