EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's not the same as the start of the regular season but if nothing else, we've finally arrived at the start of football. Real, actual football began Sunday night when the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills started the preseason in the Hall of Fame game.
The St. Louis Rams don't begin until Friday night when the New Orleans Saints come to the Edward Jones Dome. We'll dive further into things to watch in the game itself later this week but for now, let's set the table for this week and some things I'll be watching throughout the week and heading into the preseason opener.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher will discuss how much he plans to use his starters this week but if his first two seasons with the team are any indication, it's worth noting he prefers a slow build in which his top groups play less in the early preseason games and more in the later ones. Even in the fourth and final exhibition game, Fisher has often played his starters more than other teams. Of course, the two biggest names to watch are quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long, both of whom are returning from knee surgery. Bradford has been full speed during training camp and Fisher has indicated he might not use Bradford in the preseason opener. If he does, though, don't expect Bradford to play much. As for Long, the targeted return has always been closer to the middle of the preseason. While he's working in more and more team drills and appears to be on track to get some preseason snaps, it's unlikely it will happen Friday night.
This is the time during camp when soft tissues injuries start popping up. The Rams might have some of those but they also have some other ailments which could seriously limit who gets work this week and against New Orleans. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) are among the key names the Rams might be best served to play it safe with this week as they work their way back. Others such as cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Lamarcus Joyner and offensive lineman Barrett Jones appear to be more day to day propositions. The good news for the Rams is that none of their injuries seem to be anything serious.
Center Scott Wells and end William Hayes are also coming back from illness and injury, respectively, but both seem to be coming along just fine. Wells has been getting more and more repetitions each day and Hayes has also been back in the mix. Worth watching to see how much work they get in practice this week heading toward the preseason opener.
Defensive end Michael Sam got off to a strong start in this camp by pairing solid pass rush skills with strong work in special teams. Although he's still getting plenty of work as a blocker on return teams, his pass rush has leveled off a bit. And now there's a challenger for a potential ninth defensive line roster spot who appears ready to make his push. That's undrafted free agent Ethan Westbrooks. Westbrooks returned to the field from the non-football injury list late last week and quickly showed why he was the team's most highly-paid undrafted rookie. He has a lot of pass rush ability and each day he gets in practice is another chance to make up ground from his missed time.
The Rams practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET at Rams Park. They have a 6:30 p.m. ET practice Tuesday and a special teams workout on Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday workouts are open to the public.