Rams Struggle to Improve in Second Game
by Rams Nation's Don Ackerman
As you know, pre-season is the NFL's version of make-believe. Even though tickets are regularly priced, what you see means nothing. Players will be evaluated but it'll be tough because either they are going through the motion to get their reps or they are facing 2nd- or 3rd-string backups on the other team. In either case, the Rams primarily looking to fill some spots and evaluate their backups.
Friday's pre-season game showed me a team that is struggling to improve. On of the low-lights was that right tackle John St. Clair (#70) is not quite ready to protect the franchise, Kurt Warner. It also showed us that fumble-itis is still lingering on the Rams squad. The wish was that fumble-itis would leave with it's host, Az-Zahir Hakim who over the last couple years suffered from the ailment. It was bad to see the ball loose even though the Rams took some solid hits that should have knocked the ball loose.
Another bad sign I noticed were wasted timeouts in the first half. Last year, the Rams often ran out of timeouts long before the half was over. What this costs the Rams is a potential official review (there are plenty of opportunities there!) or valuable stoppage of time. In this pre-season game, Warner burned two timeouts in one drive in the 1st quarter. Timeouts have their purpose and you don't want to use all of them too early in a game. You never know when you might need the.
Don't think I make this "wasting timeouts" judgment lightly. There's a fine line between making a mistake, a misread, or a wasted opportunity and using a timeout wisely. If things go back, hindsight would say "you shoulda took the timeout." However, I don't like seeing the quarterback calling timeout for no obvious reason. Hopefully, this is simply dealing with the new personnel on the field and not a continuation of last year's problems.
But it wasn't all bad. On a good note, the Rams in the second half saved their timeouts. They took their 2nd timeout with 17 seconds left in the game. There was not wasting later in the game.
Also, on another good note, Mitch Berger (#17), the free-agent punter, looked great! Though he only averaged 40.4 yards on seven kicks, Berger boomed kicks of 51, 61 (which was called back), 54, and two for 45 years. That's great! He average was killed by two kicks under 30 yards (27 and 26 yards) and one 35-yarder. He showed great promise and though we hope not to need him, it'll be great to have that weapon ready!
In the improving department, running backs Trung Candidate (#24) and Lamar Gordon (#34) both showed great speed as did Terrence Wilkins (#82). The Rams continue to show great speed and should cause fits for any team trying to defend them.
Overall, game 2 was a mixed bag of good and bad. The Rams have high expectations for 2002 too but I know Mike Martz wants to see a lot of improvement in game 3 of the pre-season. I'll be watching that game carefully to see if the Rams can iron out the wrinkles I've seen thus far.