Bradford and the Rams completed their opener against the Vikings, resulting in a 28-7 loss. The preseason is sometimes a blurry glance at what the actual season has in-store for teams, but they are at least a partial indicator of what to expect in the regular season, at least a better indicator than training camp.
Keep in mind (when reading the following) that I am referring to the 1st string players (some 2nd string) that played in the first half of the game, I just don't have the energy to evaluate all of the no-names that won't make the cut...
THE GOOD: In a word? Defense. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Larry Grant were rock solid in stopping the run. Actually, the defense as a whole completely stuffed the run. Pass coverage in the first quarter was solid, but it slipped the rest of the game; probably due to the fact that starting CB's Ron Bartell, and Bradley Fletcher were held out of the game, as well as starting FS O.J. Atogwe.
For the first time in a long time, the Rams defensive-line was able to get a solid push, and penetrate for decent run stopping and pass pressure. Chris Long was particularly impressive, he seemed to be a team leader on defense, along with Laurinaitis. Long was able to get a QB sack, but it was not recorded to his stats because there was a holding penalty on that play (against the Vikings) that the Rams accepted. Also coming up with QB sacks: undrafted rookie Jermelle Cudjo, and the impressive rookie DE George Selvie. Also contributing from the DT position were Clifton Ryan and Darrel Scott. Overall the d-line played well, despite starting DT Fred Robbins being held out of the game.
On a lesser note, Rookie Sam Bradford looked sharp at times in his debut, but was also very limited in his last two drives because of very poor offensive line play. The highlight of Bradford's night was a 19 yard completion that was beautifully timed and thrown to WR Laurent Robinson. Bradford also made several other completions to WR Danny Amendola, RB Chris Ogbannaya, and WR Keenan Burton. Bradford looked very promising, however it became nerve racking watching him take multiple sacks, given his shoulder injury in 2009.
The Special teams were also fun to watch. Larry Grant made the tackle of the night when he laid out a Kick-Returner for the vikings. And the return team was the only unit to score, after Amendola returned a punt 96 yards for the Ram's only touchdown.
THE BAD: Although the defense looked good overall, the pass defense became very weak as the game progressed. This is not particularly alarming though, given the Defensive-Backs who sat out of the game (mentioned earlier).
The unit that was alarming was the Ram's Offensive-Line. Bradford's last two offensive drives were uneventful; the Viking's pass rush was (several times) all over him within one second after receiving the snap (although he was not perfect, he had two passes tipped at the line). Very frustrating, given all that has been invested into the o-line (two big free agent contracts, a #2 overall draft pick, and a 2nd round draft pick). But in their defense, starting LG Jacob Bell was held out of the game due to minor injury. However, the passing game is not all that suffered from the poor o-line play; starting RB (Steven Jackson was held out of the game completely) Chris Ogbannaya was held to 8 yards on 5 carries; including an embarrassing 4th and 1 attempt blown by Ogbannaya when he failed to run and dive forward, he instead chose to "dance" for a moment in the backfield, resulting in a turnover on downs.
THE UGLY: Jason Smith. Ouch! Smith was the #2 overall pick of the 2009 draft. He has acquired 3 injuries in a one year period, and most recently he has lost the starting LT spot to 2nd round pick Roger Saffold. Meanwhile, Smith was completely irrelevant in the game. Well, he was relevant, but in a bad way. The #2 overall draft pick was barely able to lay a finger on his guy. His guy was in Bradford's face before he could even look up. Jason Smith has a long way to go (before he lives up to his #2 overall status). The next time Smith feels the need to miss practice due to a "boo-boo" on his toe, he might want to think twice, and realize that in the eye's of many fans, he is the most expected player to become a bust. Fans are more excited about 6th round draft pick Fendi Onobun's potential than they are about Smith's. So Smith, if you read this, just know that you aren't being paid $33million guaranteed to nurse your candy-ass toe injury; you are being paid that money to be an NFL lineman. Note to self: Do research to see if Dick Butkus or Jackie Slater ever missed significant time due to a toe injury.
OVERALL: Yes, I was harsh on Jason Smith and the o-line. But I suppose I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, until about the 3rd or 4th preseason game. I just hope fans realize that if the o-line plays like they did tonight for the rest of the preseason, then there is virtually no chance we will see Bradford come Week 1 against Arizona.
The defense is going to be a fun unit to watch. Based on what we have seen at training camp and this game, they are an improved unit overall. Lauinaitis and Long have potential to be solid stars and leaders for this defense, for years to come.
The offense will be different come week 1. If Bradford starts, then he will get much better match-ups with his receivers than he what he had tonight, because opposing teams will be stacking 8 men in the box to defend Steven Jackson, leaving one-on-one coverages for Bradford to pick apart. But this will not happen if our O-line can not gel together. That is the key for our offense. Mardy Gilyard, Amendola, Avery, and Robinson.... none of them are elite WR's, but they can all add some pop to the offense, and we know what Jackson can do; but we won't see the full potential of these players if the o-line can't give Bradford a chance to throw, or give Jackson bigger holes. If the line comes together, then this is a whole different team than what we saw in 2009, different in a very good way.