Final NFL preseason games are often so ugly they’re funny. They’re the last showing of a movie no one really wants to see once, let alone four times. Starters are sidelined after a few snaps, or kept off the field entirely. Play-calling is vanilla flavored, served with a cardboard spoon.
There are penalties aplenty (sometimes the Rams earn 17 flags) and so many turnovers (sometimes the Rams cough it up four times in five minutes) that the relatively few spectators in attendance wonder why they dumped their belongings into clear plastic bags and made the trip.
Then a guy like Matt Daniels does something noteworthy, and everyone is reminded why this matters. Here is a guy who had to fight his way back from a devastating knee injury just to get a chance to fight for a roster spot. Here is a guy who encapsulates what this preseason debut is all about.
“It’s a great opportunity for guys like myself,” he said.
Come Saturday evening, every NFL team will have cut its roster to 53 players.
“We have some tough choices, yeah, that we have to sort out, with depth at different positions,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “The roster may look, initially, a little different than it has in the past. We may carry more at one position and fewer at others, and look for outside help.”
At safety, the Rams have seven guys for, most likely, five spots. T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod will enter the season as starters. Meanwhile, five others are doing what they can to make the team. One in that handful is Daniels, a second-year guy who tore an ACL and an MCL when the Rams played New England in London last year.
“I never want to go back to London again,” he said. “I hate that place. It was an eight-hour flight with a torn ACL and MCL. The flight was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to go through.”
He wasn’t off the physically unable to perform list until August 5. He helped make up for lost time Thursday.
“I was having fun out there, man,” he said. “I finally had an opportunity to go out there and make a couple of plays.”
First, he intercepted Baltimore Ravens quarterback Caleb Hanie’s deep pass to receiver Tandon Doss on a third and 10 early in the first quarter. Rams corner Trumaine Johnson jammed Doss at the line of scrimmage, which freed Daniels to make the grab and return it 12 yards. Then, during the following series, he leveled Baltimore’s Dallas Clark on the Rams’ 5-yard line to save a touchdown.
“Against a seasoned tight ended, too,” Fisher said of the play. “He had a one-on-one matchup with Dallas in a couple of situations. It was good to see.”
Daniels later flew down the field on a Johnny Hekker punt and made a tackle, then brought down Clark again. He finished with two tackles, two defended passes and the pick.
But did he do enough? That question will linger on the mind of every player who finds himself on the bubble. Thanks to this last preseason game, Daniels will rest easy.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I felt like coaches see all the hard work I did after coming back from my ACL surgery. I felt like I did my job tonight. I went out and made plays when necessary. It’s out of my hands now.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org