Preseason Game 4: for 53 Rams, it was awesome.

Sept 2, 2010 6:30 pm CST

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thaddeus lewis

Two quarterbacks did all they could do to win their battles in the preseason’s last game; Sam Bradford led a surgically precise opening drive for a touchdown, finding Billy Bajema open in the back corner of the end zone with an eye-opening throw through traffic, made on the run, to cap a perfect 6-for-6 run on a ten-play opening drive. This final tune-up was his statement to his coach, and to the league: “I’m ready to start. Give me the ball, coach.” Two days later, Spagnuolo made the official announcement, but watchers across the league had their say first.

Sam Bradford is going to do some great things in the NFL with his ability to hit small downfield targets across his body and on the move.
Rams QB Sam Bradford the subject of my new article tonight. Teaser: I think he will be better than QB Matt Ryan

The accolades started flying around the net even as Keith Null was taking his snaps, trying to lock down the third-string QB job, and send the intriguing collection of skills and imperfections embodied in rookie Thaddeus Lewis down to the practice squad. Null threw a TD and a pick, and led the team to ten points in scoring. Lewis also got ten points in his time, though, and in the end the Rams decided that the highly mobile Lewis represented a higher-upside project, and Null was cut.

Null was hardly the only surprising cut from the roster, as the Rams selected their best 53 (for now) to go to battle with. More game notes and roster notes after the break:

Breaking down the 53-man roster:

Secondary (9)

quincy butlerStarters: Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Craig Dahl

Bench: Justin King, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery, James Butler, Darian Stewart.

Surprise cut: Quincy Butler.

Butler is a player that came to Rams camp last season and simply outhustled everyone, surprising many by winning a job with the team. As fellow CBs went down to injury, Butler continued to play relatively strongly. Pro Football Focus’ new Premium Stats tell us that Butler played 416 snaps, was thrown on 25 times but only 11 of those were completed, and that he missed only one tackle over the entire season.

Did he do something wrong in Game 4? The game log says he passes completed on him twice, and batted a third pass away. He also returned a punt for modest yardage, and fair-caught another.

I think this was more of a numbers game, as the Rams decided to bring only 9 total DBs, including the very freshly-added Darian Stewart, replacing the injured Kevin Payne.

Linebackers (6)

bobby carpenterStarters: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na’il Diggs

Bench: David Vobora, Josh Hull, Chris Chamberlain

Mild surprise: Keeping Vobora & Hull, and dropping Bobby Carpenter I say this is a mild surprise because Vobora had reportedly been on the bubble, at least according to a bunch of us idiots who were trying to read the tea leaves into his playing time. He’d been backing up Laurinaitis as MLB on the second team, then giving way to Josh Hull (who also was playing pretty well) when the reserve reserves came in. Meanwhile, Carpenter had a very anonymous camp, but managed to make two game-end pass breakups in the last two preseason games.

Honestly, if Chamberlain and Carpenter could be rolled into one person — a hard-hitting demon on special teams who could also backpedal and play the pass — we’d have a very nice fourth linebacker. But apparently Chamberlain’s aggressiveness masks over his complete inability to fill the seams in coverage. Farewell Bobby, and a final farewell to the last tie we had to Alex Barron.

Defensive Line (10)

leonard little Starters: Chris Long, James Hall, Clifton Ryan, Fred Robbins

Bench: George Selvie, Eugene Sims, CJ Ah You, Gary Gibson, Jermelle Cudjo, Darell Scott

Surprise move: Ten keepers here? Wow.

Long, Hall and Selvie are the power trio at DE, and Cudjo has shown a nice ability to get after it on pass rushes as well. Fred Robbins has come in and played much more effectively than I originally gave him credit for. To be honest, I barely noticed Ah You this preseason, and am a bit surprised that he’s made the team. Eugene Sims is also a bit of a surprise to me, but the rookie has room to grow no doubt.

Of course, there’s still the specter of Leonard Little out there — still retired, still unsure whether St Louis even wants him back. Don’t know if this means anything, but the number 91 still hasn’t been claimed…

Special Teams (3)

K: Josh Brown P: Donnie Jones LS: Chris Massey

Offensive Line (8)

Starters: Rodger Saffold, Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg, Jason Smith.

Bench: Hank Fraley (C/G), John Greco (G), Renardo Foster (T)

Surprise Move: Rams haven’t sought out additional depth at this position (yet).

It wasn’t surprising to see Roger Allen (who made a remarkable comeback from a vicious knee injury in the 2009 season finale) or Eric Young (who had two penalties in limited action in Game 4, including one on a Josh Brown field goal try) get cut. It is a disappointment, though, that the Rams lost Phil Trautwein to injury. Rather than place him on injured reserve, they reached a settlement — meaning he can rejoin the team later in the season. That’s a good thing, but our depth in the meantime is not very promising. Hank Fraley is a center only, John Greco doesn’t thrill me, and Foster has been invisible.

@RamsHerd I’m okay with Greco…but he needs to find a little extra umph this year

Still, it would definitely be worth the Rams’ while to hunt through cutdowns and practice squads for O-line talent. (Pro Football Focus offers this list of Five Guys Who Were Cut, but Could Help Somewhere — the former Chief RT Ike Ndukwe could be a nice add.) It’s all a part of mission: keep Bradford (and hope) alive!

Receivers & Tight Ends (10)

Mark ClaytonStarters: Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui (?)

Bench: Mardy Gilyard, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton, Dominic Curry, Billy Bajema, Daniel Fells, Fendi Onobun, Add: Mark Clayton

Surprise: Four tight ends, and Mark Clayton?

That the Rams might grab veteran insurance at WR was no surprise. Devaney was deep in the hunt for the Chargers’ Vincent Jackson, until GM AJ Smith let the ball drop on his own head, missing the noon Sept 4 deadline to make a move before losing Jackson for most of the season. The Rams were also known suitors once TJ Houshmandzadeh was cut by the Seahawks, but the sure-handed Housh chose the Ravens instead. So Devaney doggedly followed the trail, sniffing out a position logjam and coming away with a bona-fide starter, a former first-round talent who is physically a near-perfect Donnie Avery clone, for a low-risk price of a sixth and seventh round pick.

Great deal, Right? Only if Clayton improves a woeful 49% catch rate… a topic I explored in depth.

Keeping Daniel Fells in the fold was a mild surprise, after he missed the all-important Game 3, and barely showed up in Game 4’s stat sheet, other than on the penalty list. His stocked has definitely swooned while Hoomanawanui’s has soared, and Bajema’s crisp touchdown route in Game 4 was icing on a pretty strong preseason that has included several whip-smart blitz pickups. Keeping Onobun is perhaps a luxury, but Rams watchers concur — there’s no way he would make it through waivers to the practice squad.

Running Backs (4)

Chris OgbonnayaStarters: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney Bench Ken Darby, Keith Toston

Surprising Cut: Chris Ogbonnaya

I say surprising because the backup RB position was seemingly “Silent G”‘s job to lose, coming into camp. He has a brief but successful audition in weeks 16 & 17 of last season, and has a very well-developed receiving ability coming out of the backfield. Ultimately, though, it was his lack of churn in the hole that killed him. He made plenty of plays on screen passes and dump offs, but his yards per carry were minimal, and most importantly in the game of Keep Hope (and Sam Bradford) Alive!, his blitz pickups weren’t quick or authoritative enough.

Couple that with Darby’s emergence from the doghouse over the last two games of the preseason, and Toston’s consistently hard north-south running, and we had a sudden reversal of fortune. I believe there is a place in the right system for Og, but apparently that place isn’t here.

HE has a plan for me. I am on His path. Will miss STL. Thank you St. Louis and Ram fans for your support. Thank you Texans. I’m home…

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Sam Bradford

Bench: A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis

Surprise Cut: Keith Null.

Ultimately, it came down to tools and perceived ceiling over completion percentage and a year with the playbook. I think there was pretty strong sentiment from watching Null play, both in practice and in game action, that he was on the “game manager” path. He might very well become a capable backup in the league, but offered little more than efficiency in his toolbox. Lewis, though, overcame a very bumpy start to the preseason, scattering passes all over the field and following beautiful deep completions with misfired sideline routes, to make some eye-opening plays with his head, arms and feet in the preseason’s final two games.

Of course, the hope is that neither he nor Feeley is ever needed in game action. (Those clipboards don’t hold themselves, you know!) In the meantime, the Rams can groom Lewis into something potentially interesting, whether as a backup or as trade bait.

For Null, though, who did all he could in the preseason’s final game, this last cut is the deepest.