A lot of people came out to Rams Park, only to be shooed home early as rain and a touch of lightning descended on the area. However, we got to see nearly an hour's worth of work, enough time to form some quick thoughts and impressions.
I wanted to spend more time watching the defensive side of the ball. And caught my first glimpse of Ben Leber in his new 59 jersey. Unfortunately they weren't doing much, just working on a hands drill that had each backer practicing their interception.
Surprisingly, it was to be the only work of the day that we got to see Leber in.
After practice, Leber said that he hadn't yet been told which position he would be playing. A bit of a problem if you are wanting to line up, unless your name is Mardy Gilyard. (Cheap shot, I know.)
The first team defense was hard to recognize with so many minor dings starting to pile up. (The secondary in particular is hurting with Ron Bartell, Al Harris and Jerome Murphy out with injuries of various severity.) But the easy rule of thumb when watching practice is to look for James Laurinaitis' number 55 in the midddle.
Instead, Josh Hull manned the middle linebacker position for both the first and second teams, getting tons of work on the day and Steve Spagnuolo's full attention. Spags has named Hull the starter for Saturday night's preseason opener, giving the redshirted rookie from Penn State his first real chance to shine.
Flanking Hull with the starters was Nail Diggs (53) and Bryan Kehl (50), presumably standing in for Leber. Zac Diles (54) and Brady Poppinga (51) made up the second team rotation. Kehl did have one nice play in coverage as Steven Jackson was split wide and Kehl was drawn into man coverge. He elevated just enough to bat away the incoming pass, some 30 yards down the sideline.
Today was a non-contact practice in shorts and shells, as you can tell from the pictures. So even in 11 on 11s the offensive and defensive lines would stand up on the snap and play pat-a-cake, rather than come together full force. But even in this format, Harvey Dahl looked like he wanted to hit someone and was often the last to break his block.
Dahl runs downfield on screen passes and running plays with the purpose of a cement truck, and is almost as nimble. His addition to the roster by itself was enough to propel the Rams into the top half of Rotoworld's O-line rankings. Now they just have to gell. The line continued to do some nice work in the running game, with one cutback run by Jerious Norwood sticking out in my mind.
Austin Pettis had the highlight of the short day, while running a shift with the first team. He elevated over double coverage deep down the middle, got his hands on the ball, bobbled it, and tracked it into his hands while running right for us in the end zone. It drew multiple "ooohs" from the crowd and appreciative applause.
Gibson, Amendola and Sims-Walker were your starting wideouts on the day, with Lance Kendricks and Billy Bajema getting the lions' share of work at tight end. I have to wonder how the Rams are even trying to evaluate those guys stuck on the second and third team. Feeley is the best of the rest, and he just does not seem to be in rhythm with his WRs at all.
Mardy Gilyard was nowhere to be seen today. Apparently he was excused with migraines but they're coming at the worst possible time. He needs to make an appearance in a game situation, make something positive happen for a lot of people to see. So far the story of his preseason is exactly what it was last season - flashes of talent, but getting caught out of position too many times by his own coaches.
I would put Donnie Avery in the same boat, in terms of players who have yet to outperform their perceptions. You hate to pick on guys who are injured, but the calendar is getting ever closer to the first day of major roster cuts.
How badly does Mike Sims-Walker want to make this team? He was lined up on special teams, rushing the "punter." SI's Jim Trotter has a positive review of MSW in his postcard from Rams camp, which is another good sign.
The rain cut short our "meet and greet" time with fellow fans, but it was a pleasure to welcome the legendary VanRam from Turf Show Times to camp, along with fellow TSTer Brandon Birkhead (who they call "Brick Top" for reasons unknown). Although meeting these internet people never quite lives up to the picture in my head. I had imagined some sort of mirror-lensed Johnny Mnemonic of football knowledge, and he turns out to be pretty much a regular guy. Who would have guessed?