The level of competition can be pooh-poohed all you want, but 55 yards is still 55 yards and they don't make the goalposts wider in the preseason. Want to hang your hat on something concrete from tonight's 27-19 scrimmage versus the Cleveland Browns? Greg Zuerlein's well-rested leg is back in the business of making jaw-dropping kicks look easy.
In honor of his two field goals (from 54 and 55 yards), here are 55 quick observations from tonight's game.
1. Watch Sam Bradford's feet. With actual time in the pocket, he looks calm and composed, and more capable of firing NFL-caliber passes. Case in point: the 20-yard sideline out to Chris Givens against the Browns' first-team defense. Fantastic throw.
2. Jake Long, at this point, looks like a steal for the money the Rams are paying him.
3. The man he moved, Rodger Saffold, is about as snakebit a player as I can remember, outside of Danario Alexander. Two plays was all it took for Saffold to be exposed at right tackle. It was an unlucky injury that started with being caught out of position.
4. X-rays are reportedly negative for Saffold, which is good. Boudreau has a project on his hands in converting him from the left side to the right. He needs every rep.
5. The man who replaced Saffold, Joseph Barksdale, had a quiet night protecting Bradford's front side. That's a good thing for an O-lineman. He had his name called a couple of times in the second half after moving to left tackle. That's not so good. Hopefully he won't be needed there.
6. Bradford's night could have been perfect. As it was, he finished 5-8 for 102 yards and a TD. Each of his three incompletions hit a receiver in the hands, and could / should have been caught. More importantly, zero sacks.
7. Fantasy folks take note: Chris Givens is the Rams' #1 receiver. That is all.
8. If hands become a difference-maker in WR positioning, then I could easily see Stedman Bailey leapfrog Austin Pettis for playing time. Bailey had to extend to make a pair of out-of-frame catches, snaring balls out of the air like a frog catching flies.
9. It has to help Bailey's case to have a luminary like Torry Holt publicly call him out as being the closest thing on the roster to Holt's mirror image. This after Holt spent time with the receivers all week.
10. One more Stedman Bailey note. He apparenly was playing gunner on kickoffs, and registered a half-tackle in the second quarter. That's going the extra mile.
11. The Rams had rotations at two positions on offense: RB and LG. Daryl Richardson clearly won the first of those, cementing his status as the #1 runner.
12. Shelley Smith vs Chris Williams at guard is harder to call without tape, but it's worth noting that Williams was on the field for Bradford's lone touchdown drive.
13. Getting back to the running backs, Isaiah Pead may be one straw away from breaking the camel's back. Putting the ball on the ground on his first carry of the night makes a strong, and sour, impression.
14. Coach Fisher and Schottenheimer reaffirmed their commitment to Pead, for the evening at least, by feeding him heavily on the next drive. They have stood fast by him this preseason, even after his embarrassing offseason remarks, but it's easy to make room for a guy and his baggage when you have an inflated roster. The next two weeks will be key.
15. Fans clamoring for a Tavon Austin show left disappointed. He got one target, and was well-covered. (I didn't know that was possible.) His one punt return was scuttled by a pooched kick.
16. On defense, the Rams generated very little push against a very good Cleveland Browns line. Brandon Weeden was mighty comfortable, and Norv Turner helped him out with quarterback-friendly quick passes and delay draws.
17. Robert Quinn kept trying to bull-rush Joe Thomas. Thomas ate him up like a stack of pancakes.
18. Perhaps more surprising, Michael Brockers got stoned one-on-one by his man, though he did get a hand up to bat down a Weeden throw. Our D-line got a major-league test, and didn't grade out well.
19. For the most part, the opposing offense keyed on the Rams' defensive interior, rather than challenge our cornerbacks. That should become a familiar sight, the way this team is constructed.
20. This means that Alec Ogletree and TJ McDonald need to clean up their tackling, particularly when filling run gaps. Dion Lewis ran by both players – juking McDonald out of his shoes – on a 3rd down draw play.
21. There are no panic buttons being pushed here, except maybe on Pead. McDonald led the team in tackles with five (four unassisted), and Ogletree had two or three of his own in limited work. But more of those plays have to become successful if this defense is going to get off the field.
22. Cortland Finnegan is a veteran that Fisher needs to keep fresh. He was all over the field tonight, but he appeared to wear down last season after a hot start. It will be tough because the team – and maybe his coach – feeds off his energy.
23. In second team work, I heard the names of twin towers Mason Brodine and Matt Conrath a lot. Both stand at 6'7", and add intriguing size to the DL rotation.
24. Also making a name for himself in second-team work, undrafted safety Cody Davis has a little Craig Dahl in him. He's good enough to be always around the ball, but right now he's a liability in coverage. He'll likely make the team as a reserve with pure hitting ability, but this is something to watch. Hope he can be coached up.
25. That said on Davis…
Cody Davis really drives on plays and has good play recognition…seen him do that multiple times
— Jim Fadler (@jimiramsboy) August 9, 2013
26. Unofficially, Brian Quick was the most-targeted receiver on the field, until the fourth quarter when the game became the Kellen Clemens-Raymond Radway show. Quick had three catches on five targets, though one was erased by a holding call on Shelley Smith.
27. The good for Quick: two of his three unofficial catches would have gone for first downs.
28. The bad: on his other catch, he allowed himself to be dragged down half a yard short of the first down stripe on a key third down play. (This field position did set up Zuerlein for his first kick.) Quick needs to turn up the volume on his inner Al Pacino, urging him to fight for every inch on the field.
29. Austin Davis got an extended look as the 2nd string quarterback, and was the guy most-often feeding Quick and Bailey. The coaching staff clearly wants him to take the reins as backup. Early returns? He hasn't locked the job down yet.
30. Throughout camp, Davis has appeared to be far too ready to make plays with his feet. It appears to be affecting his pocket play, even if he isn't thinking run right away. He needs to settle into his pocket and make his reads. If the Rams had wanted a young running QB behind Bradford, they could have kept Thaddeus Lewis.
31. Zac Stacy also got an extended look, piling up more snaps, carries and targets than Daryl Richardon or Isaiah Pead.
32. However, for a guy who is supposed to excel in making quick decisions, Stacy looked very indecisive. Several times, he took the ball at the mesh point, and came to a full stop. His first three carries totaled four yards.
33. Stacy as a runner is supposed to benefit from zone blocking in front of him, so the scavenged parts that make up a 2nd-team offensive line may not have been doing him many favors.
34. Terrence Ganaway was a surprising late scratch. Though not that surprising, if the coaching staff wanted to give Benny Cunningham some late work. Cunningham had one of the most impressive runs of the night, a bull rush through contact for 8 hard yards. Would have made Steven Jackson proud.
35. If Ganaway's tenure on this team is as tenuous as it seems, his former employers in New York might be very interested in bringing him back. The Jets' backfield is a hot mess.
36. Kellen Clemens made the game interesting in his mop-up time, pulling up on the world's slowest scramble to find Raymond Radway for a 53-yard scamper into the end zone. It was a pitch and catch worthy of the sandlot, or a Thanksgiving-day family game.
37. Clemens made a far better throw to Radway down the left sideline, arcing the ball over the 6'4" receiver's outside shoulder forty yards down the field. A catch would have been a touchdown, but Radway couldn't close his hands on the ball.
38. If the Rams keep six receivers, Radway is likely trying to fend off Andrew Helmick and newly-signed Justin Vertlung for the spot.
39. Another player that impressed in Clemens-time was the undrafted TE from Auburn, Philip Lutzenkirchen. He made one of the best catches of the game, a toe-tapper along the sideline that was reviewed and upheld.
40. A catch in football gets more legal review than most contracts these days, and a catch like this is only a catch if there is no wiggle in the ball after it hits the receiver's hands. Lutzenkirchen passed the NFL hands test. That's a very good sign for a player on the bubble.
41. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I'm sure third string right tackle Sean Hooey has a wonderful personality.
Spotlight on Chris Givens
42. Chris Givens got his three catches on three different types of routes, each one impressive in its own right. The second-year player is becoming well-rounded, and therefore a very dangerous man. His play is also injecting Bradford with the confidence to make big-play throws.
43. Catch #1: Givens ran an out route and Bradford stepped up on third down and put it over the top to his receiver at the sideline, 20 yards downfield. This is an NFL-caliber throw,
44. Catch #2: His go route ability we already know about, but it is heartening to see Sam be able to move his pocket and judge Givens' downfield range perfectly so early. That speaks to the offseason work the two have put in.
45. Catch #3: Givens benefits from a beautiful play call more than anything special he does in the route. Schottenheimer motions Daryl Richardson up into a bunch formation with Givens and Mike McNeill. Both Richardson and McNeill drag across the formation after the snap, taking two defenders with them and clearing a throwing lane for Bradford. All Givens does is drift to the back of the end zone like a ghost, and the Browns defense forgets about him. Still, Bradford has to make a good throw over the top of the linebacker spying him.
46. Tavon Austin: the best is yet to come.
47. Alec Ogletree: A trial by fire, best summarized by his new boss.
"They're not scared of you. You're not in Georgia anymore. They're going to throw it at you." – Les Snead discussing Alec Ogletree's debut
— Ben Frederickson (@Ben_Fred) August 9, 2013
48. TJ McDonald: Is going to see replays of his missed tackle on Dion Lewis many, many times. Welcome to the NFL.
49. Stedman Bailey: Best hands on the team. Some of the best hands on any team. This kid has staying power.
50. Barrett Jones: Apparently got some work as center on the third team. A step in the right direction.
51. Zac Stacy: Started slow, but finished well. Would love to see him establish himself as the "closer" in the running back bullpen.
52. Rodney McLeod led the team in special teams tackles last year, and continues to be an instinctive thumper. Quietly a very valuable asset.
53. Browns rookie Barkevious Mingo looks like the real deal, which makes a successful block on him all the more impressive. TE Cory Harkey, lined up as an H-back, had to take Mingo on in space to set up Bradford's bomb to Givens. Harkey won that battle, and can be a real contributor as a blocking TE.
The Nice Section
This is something Bernie Miklasz used to do in his Saturday Bernie Bytes columns. I actually have something nice to say, so I'm going to appropriate it for the moment.
54. Congratulations to RamsHerd writer Brennan Smith, who got his first paying journalism job at the Salt Lake City Tribune. You have to be a rising talent to swim against the tide that is working against print media these days. We've been lucky to have him writing here for us.
55. Congratulations also to RamsHerd writer Tim Shields, who took a step up the Division III coaching ranks by taking a position at his alma mater, Illinois College in Jacksonville. His knowledge of line play and play design has led to some very insightful football conversations and content here.