EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams following their training camp practice Thursday:
Preseason plan: The starters will play until halftime unless the Saturday night game against Tennessee features an unusually high number of snaps. Coach Steve Spagnuolo thinks the team needs extra work given restrictions on practice time and cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game against Chicago.
Receiver alert: The team expects Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) to play against the Titans. Avery in particular has been sharp since returning to practice Wednesday. Quarterback Sam Bradford singled out Avery for making proper route adjustments and operating efficiently within the offense. Avery caught a deep ball down the middle in practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly pleased with Avery's attention to detail on an outside route. Danario Alexander missed a couple chances to make plays on the ball high in the air and well downfield. On one, he fell back and waited for the ball instead of leaping to catch it at a higher point. Something to work on. He's at his best letting his size work to his advantage. Brandon Gibson is enjoying a strong camp and continues to work exclusively with the starters.
Legend watch: Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil dropped by practice wearing a golf shirt with a "Vermeil Wines" logo. He mingled with fans watching practice and spoke with the team afterward. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is on the guest list for Friday. He's joining the team's television network.
Mikell's impact: Recently signed veteran safety Quintin Mikell has caught Bradford's attention with his quickness on blitzes and ability to disguise intentions in the secondary. The Rams expect both of their safeties to support the run near the line of scrimmage at times. Mikell appealed to the Rams for his toughness, particularly against the run.
Jackson's return: Running back Steven Jackson was back on the field after resting a hip injury this week. Bradford reiterated his expectation that Jackson will see his total for receptions increase this season given the nature of McDaniels' offense.
Afternoon free: Spagnuolo called off afternoon meetings with an eye toward getting players fresh for the game against Minnesota. Players cheered loudly when Spagnuolo announced the news.
Weis payoff: Bradford said his two-day meeting with former McDaniels associate Charlie Weis during the lockout gave him a firmer grasp of the basics heading into camp. Bradford: "Talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like and what his offense was going to be based around really helped me grasp the very basics of it and what we were going to try to do at the beginning of camp."
Striking out: Receiver Mardy Gilyard and offensive line coach Steve Loney strung together six or seven strikes in a row during a recent team bowling event. Spagnuolo lamented his inability to beat Bradford. The coach wasn't particularly forthcoming about his score, either. Bradford: "He never really told me his score. I have a feeling I beat him pretty bad."
Stuffing the run: Justin Bannan has blown up a couple running plays in the practices I've watched. The free-agent addition from Baltimore has played the nose in 3-4 defenses, but he's not as massive as prototypical noseguards such as Vince Wilfork or the retired Ted Washington. He can swing between nose tackle and traditional 4-3 defensive tackle.
Linebacker shuffle: Bryan Kehl continues to work with the starters at weakside linebacker, but recently signed veteran Ben Leber is getting reps there, too. I would expect Leber to take over starting duties as the season progresses. Na'il Diggs continues to work with the starters on the strong side. Brady Poppinga could be a candidate to start there as well.
The Rams will be back on the field Friday for a walk-through session.