Make no mistake, the biggest storyline of the St. Louis Rams’ Saturday night preseason win over the Cleveland Browns was the massive injury bug that hit the team. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury (now thought to be rather non-serious) that was highly reminiscent of the torn ACL that ended his 2013 season early. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson was carted off the field, which has to make you assume that he’ll be out for the rest of the season until proven otherwise. And the Rams’ king of untimely injuries, guard Rodger Saffold, suffered an ankle injury in the first healthy game of his 2014 preseason.
Despite those injuries which could so significantly affect the Rams during the regular season, Saturday night was a major event for undrafted cornerback Marcus Roberson and seventh-round defensive end Michael Sam. With the game film that both players accumulated this week, they’re really going to force the Rams’ hand and give themselves a strong chance to be claimed on waivers by another team should St. Louis fail to carry them on the opening 53-man roster.
Roberson really stood out as a special-teamer on Saturday, and that probably will end up being his clearest path to the 53-man roster. The rookie out of Florida had three tackles, including one that stopped a 45-yard kick return from Marlon Moore that very well could have gone for a touchdown. In addition, Roberson had a fumble recovery.
With Johnson likely to be on the shelf this year, Roberson is probably battling with rookie Greg Reid and another late breakout candidate, Jarrid Bryant, for a fith cornerback spot on the 53-man roster. While he needs to continue to produce in practice over the next few days, he helped himself a whole lot with his effort in Cleveland.
After being overshadowed by undrafted free agent Ethan Westbrooks during the Rams’ first two preseason games, Saturday night was Sam’s night to shine. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year sacked Cleveland first-rounder Johnny Manziel on two occasions. That brought him up to three sacks on the preseason, which suddenly vaulted him into the ranks of the most successful defensive performers in the NFL this preseason. After tonight, Sam has more sacks than any of the pass rushers selected in the first round of this year’s draft, including the Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, the Oakland Raiders’ Khalil Mack, his Rams teammate Aaron Donald, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Dee Ford, and the Eagles’ Marcus Smith. Granted, that comparison isn’t 100 percent fair because Sam has gotten action against second and third-teamers, while most of those guys have been working against first and second teams, but he’s still found a way to get noticed on a weekly basis thus far.
Sam’s performance Saturday probably wasn’t enough to push firmly ahead of Westbrooks in the roster battle. But it does increase the likelihood that the team will make sacrifices in other areas in order to get both Sam and Westbrooks on their opening 53-man roster.
In addition to those two defensive players, quarterback Austin Davis seemed to take the lead in the third quarterback competition on Saturday. The third-year signal caller, who has been battling with rookie sixth-rounder Garrett Gilbert throughout camp while neither has stood out remarkably, really showcased himself well. Davis went 14-of-22 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Gilbert, meanwhile, only got a little bit of playing time at the end of the game and completed one of two attempted passes for 23 yards.
The Rams aren’t just going to snap their fingers and give up on Gilbert, a guy that they drafted this year. With Bradford likely to sit out the last preseason game no matter how serious his injury is, both guys will get final chances to prove themselves. Based on tonight’s performance, though, Davis should hold the edge as the Rams head into their final exhibition game.