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NFL St Louis Rams

5 Things to Watch for in St. Louis Rams’ Preseason Opener

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5 Things to Watch for in St. Louis Rams’ Preseason Opener

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Youth can be a volatile component in the NFL. The St. Louis Rams experienced the upside potential of that last season when they finished 7-8-1 and played toe-to-toe with some of the toughest competition in the league in the NFC West division.

Last year is in the past now, and this team is once again the youngest in the league. Veterans like Steven Jackson, safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl, along with wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson are no longer on the squad. If there were any doubts as to whether or not the new era of Rams football had begun a season ago, those have been erased with the complete roster changeover that has taken place this offseason.

Now what remains for the team are some serious questions as the Rams prepare for their first exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns. Both sides of the ball have a number of young, unproven players trying to make a name for themselves in the NFL. There are several veteran players who are still trying to get over that hump and propel this team to bigger and better things in 2013.

Head coach Jeff Fisher is one of the best leaders of men that the game has to offer. It’s hard to argue that anyone galvanizes a locker room quite like he does given his familiarity with the inner-workings of the game. That element will be especially important to this team as they inevitably face adversity along the way in the upcoming season.

As for now, there are five areas that are really worthy of some serious attention in the Rams’ preseason opener against the Browns. These will be places where the team still needs to prove itself as well as uncertainties that remain unresolved with the regular season on the horizon. If the Rams really want to take leap forward in the upcoming season, these five areas will be a good place to start in week one of the preseason.

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5. Safety Battle

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned in the opening, Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell aren’t walking through that door so this team has turned over a new leaf in the secondary. Rookie T.J. McDonald is expected to start at one safety spot with Darian Stewart, Rodney McLeod, and veteran Matt Giordano in the mix as well. Sorting through this group will be key for the Rams. With McDonald and Stewart listed as starters going in it appears they are in prime position to win the starting gigs. A lot could change in the first preseason game, however, with a blown coverage or a missed assignment. It will be interesting to see just how the safeties fare against the Browns in their first preseason test.

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4. Running Back Rotation

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously this one has been the subject of much pondering during the offseason with Steven Jackson moving on, but the Rams have a trio of backs expected to share the load this year. Daryl Richardson is in the driver’s seat to begin the night in the backfield, but Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy will also see their fair share of reps. Richardson will need to show that he is a complete back and run between the tackles with success, while the concern with Pead is consistency and Stacy will surely have a learning curve as a rookie. Seeing which one of these three enjoys the most success on the ground will be an interesting thing to watch as the preseason begins.

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3. Jake Long Blindside Protection

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest fish the Rams landed from the Miami Dolphins (see what I did there?) in the offseason was offensive tackle Jake Long. Quarterback Sam Bradford has spent far too much time on his back during his career, and the team finally took a serious interest in providing him with a comfortable pocket. Long doesn’t come without question marks, though, as injuries have bothered him in recent seasons. Seeing how he deals with the different blitz combinations the Browns are sure to throw at him will be interesting in his Rams debut. If Long can regain his form from his first few years in the league, the Rams have a real catch in this blindside protector.

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2. Rookie Impact

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Rookies will be the theme for this Rams team, and there are none bigger than first rounders Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree. Austin figures to line up everywhere offensively, but it’s doubtful the Rams will reveal much of that in the first preseason game. Seeing him make a grab or two and make some tacklers miss will be more than enough in his debut action. Ogletree will be penciled in as the starter at outside linebacker, and he must show that he is capable of recognizing plays as they develop and getting downhill to the football in a heartbeat. Seeing how these two look in their first action will definitely be a treat for fans.

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1. Sam Bradford Evolution

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

With weapons around him and hopefully some seriously upgraded protection, the onus is on Sam Bradford to make things happen this season. The Rams can’t wait forever for the former No. 1 overall pick to live up to his promise, and the preseason will show just how much he has matured since last season ended. Bradford has great leadership as shown by his come from behind victories that he lead the Rams on last season. If he can build some more consistency and take this team to greater heights in 2013, the Rams will certainly feel more sound moving forward with him under center.

Anthony Blake is a Senior Writer/Copy Editor for Rant Sports. You Can Follow Him on Twitter, on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.