Rams-Packers five things to watch

ST. LOUIS — The Rams had a youthful and injury-depleted roster for their preseason opener against the visiting Saints last Friday, but still did some positive things in their 26-24 defeat.

On the day after that loss, coach Jeff Fisher said he expected many of the players who missed that game to participate in the second preseason contest, this Saturday against the Green Bay Packers at Edward Jones Dome.

“I think we had 18 guys that did not play in the game for whatever reason, nine of whom were starters, and this week it looks as if we’ll probably get 15 to 16 of them back,” Fisher said then.

That early prognostication probably won’t come true on Saturday. The Rams look like they will still be without some key players, like offensive linemen Jake Long and Rodger Saffold, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and top cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

But several players will see their first action of the preseason, which will give us all a little more insight into Fisher’s squad.

Here are five things I’ll be watching for on Saturday afternoon:

Sam Bradford

All eyes will be on the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft as he makes his preseason debut. It also doubles, of course, as his first return from the knee injury that ended his 2013 campaign after just seven games.

Fisher said this week he expects Bradford to play a little more of a quarter, so he should have a couple series to show how far he’s come with his rehab and how ready he’ll be for the regular season. Bradford’s eagerly awaiting getting hit for the first time and then getting up for the first time. You can read more about that here.

This is the next step in a significant season for No. 8.

• Defending Aaron Rodgers

The Rams sat out three of their top cornerbacks against the Saints, with Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee all watching from the sideline. That gave guys like rookies Lamarcus Joyner and E.J. Gaines a chance to show what they could do and both flashed their potential.

Jenkins may not play and Darren Woodard, who started last week along with Gaines, may not play either. But Johnson and McGee got plenty of reps in practice this week and should get some substantial work.

The Rams didn’t face Saints quarterback Drew Brees last week but they should get a good look at Packers QB Aaron Rodgers this time.

Rodgers and wide receiver Jordy Nelson both sat out the Packers preseason opener, a loss against the Titans, but both are expected back this week.

• Rams’ running game

It’s difficult to evaluate the running game when some of the team’s offensive linemen are out of action, but the results in the preseason opener weren’t anything special.

The Rams rushed for 150 yards on 32 carries, averaging a robust 4.7 yards per rush. But if you take away Chase Reynolds’ 38-yard run on the fake punt in the second half, that average drops to less-than-impressive 3.6 yards per carry.

Now how much can we learn Saturday if Long and Saffold both sit out? Maybe not much. But it will be interesting to see if the return of center Scott Wells, assuming he sees action, can make a difference up front.

Isaiah Pead and undrafted rookie Trey Watts could make their preseason debuts after sitting out against the Saints. Both were more active in practice this week after returning from injuries.

Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks

Sam, the seventh-round pick from Mizzou, did some good things in the loss to the Saints. But Westbrooks was probably a little more impressive.

It could be that only one of these players makes the 53-man roster at the beginning of the regular season. And it could be that Westbrooks, from West Texas A&M, beats out the 2013 Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year.

After a good start to training camp for Sam, it’s been Westbrooks who has impressed more throughout practice sessions as well as the first preseason game. Will that trend continue on Saturday?

• Kicking game

Fisher said he wasn’t worried about Greg Zuerlein after the kicker missed two fourth-quarter field goals — from 46 yards and 59 yards away — in the loss to the Saints.

The coach attributed those misses to having backup Jorgen Hus as the long snapper for both of those kicks and, not that it was Hus’s fault, but that having a different long snapper just makes it different for the holder and the kicker.

That explanation is understandable for a preseason game where the outcome doesn’t matter, but if the kicking game has any kind of hiccup on Saturday it will raise some questions about Zuerlein going into his third season.

Zuerlein’s resume is strong. He made 26 of 28 field goals in 2013 — both of his misses came from beyond 40 yards — after making 23 of 31 (74.2 percent) as a rookie in 2012. (Though it should be noted Greg the Leg only missed two of his attempts from less than 50 yards.)

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

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