Rams-Saints five things to watch

Aaron Donald (USA TODAY Sports)

ST. LOUIS — We don’t figure to learn a lot from the Rams’ preseason opener tonight against the New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome, but there are no shortage of storylines to keep an eye on.

Here are five things I’ll be watching for on Friday night.

Gregg Williams’ IMPACT

Everything we’ve heard about Williams in OTAs and training camp indicates that the Rams’ players are enjoying the scheme employed by their new defensive coordinator.

Some stories out of Saints training camp this week have showed that the players certainly haven’t forgotten about New Orleans’ former defensive coordinator and expect him to blitz early and often in the preseason opener.

Rams’ fans will be happy to see a more aggressive defense this season and this preseason schedule figures to give everyone a glimpse of that.

Aaron Donald

The rookie first-round pick from Pittsburgh has been one of the Rams’ most impressive players during OTAs and early in training camp.

Now we will get to see what happens when Donald squares off with somebody else. There’s a good chance we’ll see plenty of Donald because starters Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford have both missed time with injuries in camp and there’s not much depth behind them.

Donald has already been mentioned as a defensive rookie of the year candidate. This is his first chance to show if he’s worthy of such talk.

• SECONDARY

Saints quarterback Drew Brees isn’t expected to play but that doesn’t mean the Rams’ young secondary won’t get tested.

Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins missed the past few days of training camp with an undisclosed injury, but most of the players in the secondary have been healthy and participating in practices. That means we should get a good look at the entire group, which could turn into some interesting battles for roster spots in the next few weeks.

Second-year cornerback Brandon McGee will have a bigger role with Jenkins likely out and his improvement/development will go a long way towards helping out this secondary.

All eyes will be on feisty rookie second-round nickel cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. The diminutive DB has already proven in camp that he won’t back down from a challenge.

Other defensive backs I’ll be keeping an eye on our rookie fourth-round safety Maurice Alexander, rookie sixth-round cornerback E.J. Gaines and undrafted rookie corners Marcus Roberson and Greg Reid.

• FOURTH TIGHT END

No, this isn’t the sexiest of topics in training camp, but it’s one of the more interesting position battles going right now.

Undrafted rookie Alex Bayer and youngsters Justice Cunningham and Mason Brodine, the converted defensive end, have all shown flashes of their potential throughout OTAs and training camp and all three players fit the bill as tight ends who can block and catch.

None of them appear ready to unseat Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks or Cory Harkey among the top three tight ends, but Bayer, Cunningham and Brodine all look like guys who can contribute on special teams right away and develop for the future. Figuring out which guy to keep will be a difficult call for the coaches at the end of training camp.

Michael Sam

The first openly gay football player in the NFL will make his preseason debut tonight, likely as a blocker or coverage guy on the kickoff team, before getting reps as one of the reserve defensive ends.

The rookie seventh-round pick from the University of Missouri has had his moments during camp, but he hasn’t looked like a guy who will definitely have a spot on the 53-man roster going into the regular season.

Sam hasn’t gotten as many reps since William Hayes returned from an injury, so these preseason games will be the best opportunity for the 2013 unanimous All-American to show what he’s capable of at this level.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com

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