In a traditional sense, the third preseason game on the NFL schedule is when teams take their longest look at the players who will ultimately be the starters when the regular season kicks off.
But as the Rams prepare to take on Dallas at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night, they are actually taking a different approach than what the Cowboys figure to take. Assuming the Dallas starters play into the third quarter, there figures to be a large chunk of game time in which the Rams backups will be taking on the top units for the Cowboys.
That should present a difficult task for the Rams but also an opportunity for some players to gain quality experience against another team’s best players.
“I think, we’re going to have to hold up,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “Dallas, I’m sure, is determined to get ready for the opener and use Week 3, so we’re going to have to hold up and play well and play hard. The guys are…we’re going to have to protect our quarterback because they’re very multiple on defense. Rob (Ryan) is a good coordinator and he is going to pressure the passer and they’re going to try to stop the run and do all those things, so we’ve got quite a challenge ahead of us.”
Fisher’s philosophy is to have his team use a slow build throughout the preseason culminating in an extended look for the starters in the fourth and final preseason games. Most teams do that this week and rest their starters in the exhibition finale.
Fisher doesn’t like the idea of having his starters play a long time in the third game and then waiting more than two full weeks to get extended playing time again. He doesn’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer, per se, but he has no problems going against the grain on this one.
Of course, as players, the Rams don’t mind doing whatever it is Fisher asks them to do.
“He’s the boss,” end
This game carries a bit more weight with it as well since the first round of cuts are fast approaching.
In fact, all teams have to cut from 90-man roster down to 75 by Monday afternoon. That’s a fairly substantial cut and though maybe that first round of cuts is a bit more obvious, the final cut from 75 to 53 is only four days later.
While the fourth and final preseason game sits between the two rounds of cuts, a strong game Saturday night for anyone on the bubble would be helpful in pursuit of a roster spot or even the potential to make the coaching staff wait to give another look in the preseason finale next Thursday against Baltimore.
Competition still exists at nearly every position, in some cases players might emerge to shakeup the dynamic of the roster in terms of players kept at a certain position. At other spots, players might be battling amongst themselves for one final spot.
“Well, we’re looking,” Fisher said. “If there’s a drop-off in production or there’s mistakes and things like that or there’s a younger player that’s got an upside, we’re going to give that younger player a chance. The guys have done a good job. We’ve tried to create, in those certain areas where there is competition; we tried to create at least an even opportunity for them as best we can. We’ll see. There will be some things that will be settled here in the next week or so.”
Making those cuts is the hard part of the business for everyone involved. Fisher said he handles all the cuts personally and talks to each player individually before making the move.
After spending months together forming a bond, it’s hard to just let those relationships go quickly.
“It’s tough on everyone because over a month’s time, you get a chance to be around someone for quite some time, share stories, find likeness and the reality of this business is that we won’t all be together come September 9,” running back
Simply getting a look at players on the bubble and in positional competition isn’t the only thing the Rams figure to get out of this third preseason game. Perhaps more important than that aspect is finding a way to maintain some of the momentum they created with their strong performance last week against Kansas City.
The Rams battered the Chiefs with both starters and backups. The starting unit on offense couldn’t have had a better beginning, marching to two quick touchdowns in the first five minutes.
This week, the starters aren’t expected to play much beyond the first quarter, though they could get an additional series or two than they had last week.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would like to see more of that this week against another stout 3-4 defense.
“I think the big thing is obviously we’ve had some success last week,” Schottenheimer said. “The week before, not very good. So you just want to see them getting better. Again, Coach (Fisher) controls all those decisions. We’ve got a plan going in normally that we’ll talk about probably tonight or tomorrow. The biggest thing is that we see improvement. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the scoreboard. We want to see improvement on the field.”
Along with that, the Rams figure to continue to mix and match players with the starters, particularly with some of the youngsters they are counting on contributing this season.
At running back,
Throwing those youngsters out under the bright lights of Dallas in Jerry Jones’ palace should give the Rams an even better evaluation of where many of their young players are in their development.
“It certainly is a big stage,” Long said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how our guys react but at the end of the day, it’s just football. It’s a heck of a fun place to play but it’s a lot more fun if you are winning and playing well so you don’t want to get caught up in that stuff. You want to focus on trying to win your battle every down.”