EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the Rams near the halfway point of the preseason, one of the camp competitions that was supposed to be hotly contested all the way through the exhibition slate seems to be ending as fast as the man who’s winning it runs the 40-yard dash.
As the team’s leading returning rusher, it stood to reason that speedy Daryl Richardson would be the odds-on favorite to win what many figured would be a close battle to claim the starting running back job.
Since camp has begun, Richardson has done nothing to endanger that status and, in fact, has probably put a bit of distance between himself and competitors such as Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway and rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham.
A week after Richardson looked sharp in the preseason opener against Cleveland with 24 yards on four carries, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer confirmed that Richardson is ahead, but also noted that there’s still time for one of the others to make a push.
“I think Daryl played really, really well last week,” Schottenheimer said. “I think Isaiah’s definitely got to play some catch-up. But again, we’re not just looking at one game. He’s got a whole preseason to look at. We were very pleased with the way Daryl played last week. They’ve both done really well in practice. Would I say Daryl has the lead? Sure, but there’s a ways to go, and we expect good things from Isaiah this weekend.”
Pead continues to get opportunities with the first team offense in practice, and will likely get more Saturday night when the Rams play Green Bay in the second of four preseason contests.
For Pead to play the type of catch-up Schottenheimer referred to, he’s going to have to prove that he can bounce back from a disappointing start to the preseason. After having ball-security issues in limited opportunities in 2012 -- Pead played just 42 offensive snaps with 10 carries -- he fumbled on his first carry against the Browns to kill a promising opening drive.
To Pead’s credit, he did break an 11-yard run on a trap play in which he made a quick read and slid off the side of the point of attack for the team’s second longest run of the night. He finished with 16 yards on three carries.
Despite the fumble, Schottenheimer said Pead has performed well in practice.
“I think Isaiah’s done some amazing things in training camp,” Schottenheimer said. “Obviously he was disappointed last week in the fumble. We talked about that with him. We said, ‘Hey, don’t let one play take away all the great things you’ve done.’ He’s made play after play, so again, try to get him some more reps. Obviously he’s still a young player. You’ve got to teach him. But build on the great things he’s doing out here on the practice field and carry that over to the field.”
Therein lies the real rub with Pead. At times, he flashes the type of game-breaking ability that made him a second-round pick, and his skill set would seem to fit what the Rams are hoping to become offensively this season.
The positive reinforcement from the likes of Schottenheimer is no coincidence, as the test for Pead will be to move past the mental blocks he puts on himself any time he makes a mistake.
Most signs still point to the Rams using a running back by committee approach this season, but how that plays out will be determined by what happens in the next few weeks. Against Cleveland, Richardson and Cunningham played 10 snaps, Pead played seven and Stacy played 21.
Coach Jeff Fisher insists he’d like to get some of his backs other than Richardson and Pead a chance to play with the first team offense before the preseason games are through.
“Our hope is to try to get them some carries behind the starting offensive line over the next couple of weeks to fairly evaluate them,” Fisher said.
Since the offense is likely to be on the field a bit more this week, it’s possible players like Stacy or Cunningham could get a couple looks with the top unit as the Rams continue to sort through their options.
A few quick hits left over from Thursday’s practice, when linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s suspension was the news of the day:
Marty Schottenheimer, father of Brian, attended the practice with cameras from NFL Films in tow. Rumor has it, there’s a documentary in the works about the Schottenheimer family’s football legacy.
Torry Holt also returned to camp as he’s in town again in advance of working as color analyst for Saturday night’s preseason broadcast. Holt will fly solo in that role alongside play-by-play man Andrew Siciliano as fellow analyst Marshall Faulk will not be in the booth. Faulk is missing the broadcast so he can take his son, Marshall Jr., to college at Central Washington.
Holt again was not hesitant to provide guidance for the team’s young receivers. Although Brian Quick had a mostly strong practice, Holt was quick to get on him for not turning it up and going full speed deep down the field against a certain coverage. Holt’s advice: “As soon as you see that coverage, you’ve got to be out of there.”
Speaking of receivers with strong practices, Chris Givens continues to impress. He caught everything thrown his way, and continues to show that he’s much more than a one-trick pony. After one back-shoulder catch in tight coverage during red zone work, Brian Schottenheimer nearly jumped out of his shoes in excitement.
Rookie cornerback Brandon McGee worked in a bit with the first-team defense in nickel packages. Presumed nickel cornerback Trumaine Johnson has had some good moments in camp, but has been a bit inconsistent. McGee has impressed with his physical skills in press coverage and overall feisty demeanor.