To prepare for tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs game at the Coliseum tonight, I talked with SB Nation’s Rams blog, Turf Show Times. You can read my answers to their questions over at their site; check out their answers to my questions below.
1. Name one Rams offensive player we should watch out for.
TST: TE Tyler Higbee. I might split this between he and UDFA rookie WR Nelson Spruce, but Spruce's knee was juiced on Saturday and until it's loose, I can hardly conduce focusing on him when he can't produce. That would just be fan abuse (Sorry, not sorry).
Higbee was a fourth-round pick for the Rams in the 2016 NFL Draft, just 109 picks after their first pick after No. 1 overall selection QB Jared Goff. He's been consistently impressive in training camp and his showing last Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys confirmed those reports. The question is how quickly he adjusts to NFL-caliber opposition coming out of Western Kentucky and how he develops a rapport with the Rams' starting quarterback ... whoever that is.
2. Name one Rams defensive player we should watch out for.
TST: CB E.J. Gaines. Gaines' last snap in a game for the Rams was on December 21, 2014. Gaines suffered a concussion late in his impressive 2014 rookie season and then injured his foot last year early in training camp before the 2015 preseason. So we haven't seen him in real football action in a long, long, long time. Making things more worrisome is how good Gaines was in 2014.
More: Rams rookies to watch tonight
After Trumaine Johnson suffered a preseason knee sprain that sidelined him for a month-plus, Gaines, a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Missouri, filled in very well. So well that he had essentially taken Johnson's starting spot across from Janoris Jenkins. Tru came back last year in Gaines' absence and played well himself in the No. 2 CB spot. With Jenkins having left for the New York Giants (not to mention FS Rodney Mcleod bolting for the Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency, there's already significant pressure for the secondary to maintain their level of performance despite the personnel attrition. To apply that pressure on someone who hasn't played a down of real football since Robert Griffin III was still the starter in Washington ... suffice to say, Rams fans will be watching Gaines closely when he returns to the field on Saturday.
3. Who are a couple of bubble players the Chiefs might want to check out if they're cut?
TST: The Rams' defensive line is so good and so deep, there's a good chance the cuts there might be a good addition. And with the Rams trying to sort through a huge pool of wide receivers, I could see someone latching on later that maybe didn't have the right preseason with the Rams. Take someone like WR Duke Williams who starred early in his career at Auburn but was de-railed by off-field issues. He's been a solid addition in training camp, but if that doesn't manifest in preseason action, he'll likely remain behind Spruce in the pecking order which has already expanded for the Rams in 2016 due to two newly drafted wideouts. He could be someone that deserves a look later on.
4. Does "The return of Nick Foles" do anything for you? Your Foles thoughts?
TST: It absolutely does. It wasn't all that long ago that Foles was helping lead the Eagles to consecutive 10-win seasons including that ridiculous 2013 run that resulted in that gaudy stat line of 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions by season's end. Of course, his 2015 run was abysmal as any Rams fan will tell you. The real question is how much was on Foles and how much was on the Rams around him: the players, the coaches, the general environment / culture, etc. There are a number of Rams fans who attribute the Rams' ranking of the worst offense in the NFL to the QB position.
If Case Keenum or Jared Goff can provide a reliable output at the position and bring the Rams out of the bottom tier of NFL offenses and Foles struggles in Kansas City, it will help validate that position. Should they struggle as well and / or Foles find success with the Chiefs, it would suggest something more pervasive throughout the Rams organization exists that's holding the Rams' offense back.
5. How are you liking Hard Knocks so far?
TST: Well, I'm obviously biased ... so I'm enjoying the look behind the locker room doors at the players and coaches of the franchise I've followed for 25-ish years. And Hard Knocks is so well done that regardless of the team in question, there's enough entertaining footage and personalities to carry the show in general.
But there's something about the hollowness of the Rams that's making this season different. There's something almost sad about Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher proclaiming he's not going 7-9, 8-8, or 10-6 (seriously, Jeff Fisher acted mad about the idea of going 10-6 when he hasn't coached a team to a winning record since 2008...).
And perhaps it's just my personality, but it pulls at my sympathy strings to see him demand, "I know what I'm doing," since ... yanno ... if you have to say that, it kinda just ... I dunno. There's been something about the show in seasons past where I bought into the idea that these teams were really getting better, or that there was a chance of success being founded in the preseasons the show documented (though perhaps yall's season was the exception...). That just doesn't feel like the case here.
It really seems like the 2016 Los Angeles Rams are just figuring things out. They're figuring out who their quarterback is. They're figuring out how to re-assemble a defense that has lost so many key components. And they're figuring out how all of that fits into the sports landscape of Los Angeles in which, as Rams OL Rodger Saffold said, "If we don't win, they're just gonna go surfing." And to be in that position of "if we don't win," of the uncertainty facing this team in Fisher's and Rams General Manager Les Snead's fifth year in charge of the team just doesn't make sense. So to watch the preseason unfold for a franchise's administration as they feign this weird misplaced certainty is just strange. But I won't lie, I have been entertained by it.
Which maybe is a fitting metaphor for Rams football these last few years. Strange but entertaining.