The St. Louis Rams conclude their preseason schedule on Thursday night in Miami. With all the horror the team has had to endure over the past three weeks—namely the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Sam Bradford, as well as plenty of other lower-profile injuries—the Rams will be glad to get the slate of meaningless games over with and head into the regular season as intact as possible.
With the starters probably being backed off a bit on Thursday, it will be a good opportunity for some younger players to continue to push for jobs. Here are four things in particular to pay attention to when the Rams take the field tomorrow night.
1. Does Shaun Hill Play?- It will be interesting to see if the Rams let new starting quarterback Shaun Hill take the field on Thursday. On one hand, it would be a nice opportunity for him to continue to get comfortable as the leader of the offense in a game environment. On the other hand, though, the coaching staff might find it unnecessary to put Hill at any sort of risk and therefore create any chance that Austin Davis, who was coaching high schoolers during the first half of last year, would have to serve as the team’s opening day starting quarterback. Even if Hill does play, expect his time on the field to be limited.
2. 53-Man Roster Battles- This is always the most intriguing element of the fourth preseason game. Players are battling for the last few available roster spots on the team, and it’s the last chance for them to make a great impression. Obviously, the most high-profile battle on a national level is the perceived one between Ethan Westbrooks and Michael Sam for a final defensive line spot. It’s possible that defensive tackle Alex Carrington might end up factoring into that decision as well, so all three players should be aiming to have the game of their life on Thursday.
There are some other intriguing competitions to watch as well, including the battle for a final cornerback spot between Greg Reid and Marcus Roberson and a competition for a probable fourth tight end spot between Alex Bayer and Justice Cunningham. Each of those players is likely to get extended action tomorrow and will need to make the most of it in order to secure their spot on the active roster.
3. Practice Squad Roster Battles- Beyond the guys who are seriously competing for spots on the 53-man roster, there are some players who will be making a case to be a part of the Rams’ practice squad. There’s a likely battle between receivers Austin Franklin, Emory Blake, and Justin Veltung for one or two open spots on the 10-man practice squad. A group of offensive linemen that includes Sean Hooey, Mitchell Van Dyk, Travis Bond, and Brandon Washington are also fighting for what figures to be one or two practice squad spots.
On defense, the Rams could end up keeping a defensive tackle on the practice squad if they should release Carrington, which means that Matt Conrath and Deantre Harlan would be battling it out for a position. Linebackers Lawrence Wilson, Etienne Sabino, and Aaron Hill will be fighting to serve as emergency practice squad depth, and safeties Christian Bryant and Avery Cunningham are probably battling for a singular job on the 10-man supplementary roster.
4. Does Anyone Force the Team’s Hand?- We’ve definitely seen a fair share of guys during the history of the St. Louis Rams who have forced their way onto the team with a great final preseason game because the team became too scared of losing them by way of a waiver claim. Last year defensive end Gerald Rivers, who seemed to be ticketed for the practice squad, showed out against the Baltimore Ravens with six tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss and ended up making the roster over a player in Mason Brodine who probably could have been more useful but was easier to sneak to the practice squad through waivers. It’s certainly possible that someone we’re not thinking of as a strong 53-man roster candidate will make their way there with a spectacular performance tomorrow night.