Rams wrap preseason with no new injuries and same old roster questions
With the Rams' final preseason tuneup out of the way, Jeff Fisher can finally start breaking down the official roster. Several players, including Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks, made his decision tougher with their play Thursday night in Miami.
Ethan Westbrooks played well in the Rams' final preseason game -- but will he make the final cut?
Wilfredo Lee / AP
By Luke Thompson
Five Rams starters didn't return to the field last Saturday in Cleveland after suffering first-half injuries, including quarterback Sam Bradford's second ACL tear in less than a year.
Although three of them were healthy enough to play, coach Jeff Fisher decided not to take any chances Thursday night in Miami. He told St. Louis FOX2now at halftime that last week's bad luck played a factor in the decision to leave his starters on the sideline in the final preseason game.
Miami's Joe Philbin followed suit, giving the sparse crowd at Sun Life Stadium a mistake-filled game featuring mostly unfamiliar names. Those who stuck it out got a mostly meaningless reward as the home team rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat the Rams, 14-13.
That score won't matter much on a night featuring simple defensive schemes and plenty of I-formation runs by third-, fourth- and even fifth-string running backs. Easily the best news from Thursday's game was that it didn't feature any more injuries.
-- Sam, Westbrooks make final arguments. Maybe the biggest story in the NFL this weekend will be whether the Rams choose to make defensive end Michael Sam the first openly gay player to make a regular-season roster.
The seventh-round draft pick from Mizzou clearly knew the importance of Thursday's game for his future. Less than two hours before kickoff, he tweeted:
Time for the preseason final exam... Rams vs Dolphins, time to make a statement! #GameDay
Sam got more playing time than he's seen in any of the first three games and responded with a team-high five tackles and an assist. That capped off a productive preseason in which he totaled 11 tackles and three sacks.
But Ethan Westbrooks, the undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M who appears to be Sam's main competition, made his mark against the Dolphins as well with four tackles, including a second-quarter sack. He continues to play at all four spots on the line, and that versatility along with his size and athleticism could be what ultimately puts him ahead of Sam.
"I'm definitely comfortable with what I did and how I performed," Westbrooks told KTVI after the game. "There's always going to be times that you wish you had back, but you live and you learn from them and I'll get better."
There's also the outside chance both players could make the Rams' 53-man roster due by the NFL's Saturday 3 p.m. deadline. But if Sam does get placed on waivers, he should be an attractive candidate for teams without the defensive line depth found in St. Louis.
-- Davis makes his case for backup duties. Although new starter Shaun Hill didn't play Thursday, the Rams got a good look at the guy they believe could be a reliable backup in case of another disaster.
Austin Davis got off to a shaky start, misfiring badly on three of his first four passes in a scoreless first quarter. But he eventually settled down to finish with an impressive stat line of 12 for 19 for 162 yards and a touchdown without a turnover before watching the second half from the sideline.
It still wouldn't be a surprise to see St. Louis pick up another quarterback off waivers, especially since Garrett Gilbert didn't look like more than a practice player in the second half. In a brief interview with FOX2now at halftime, Fisher said Davis made some mistakes and should have done better to avoid the three sacks he took against an aggressive Dolphins defense.
But he also showed some strong poise in the pocket to go along with decent mobility behind a shaky offensive line. The third-year quarterback seems to have a solid grasp on the offense and occasionally looked capable of making some reasonably difficult throws.
-- Watts shows flashes of NFL talent. Maybe the best indicator of what kind of game this would be came when a running back most figured would get cut a week ago carried the ball on the first three plays from scrimmage.
But combined with a solid performance in Cleveland, rookie Trey Watts may have done enough to make Rams coaches think twice before they send him packing. The undrafted free agent out of Tulsa sliced through the defense for 11 yards on the second play of the game and continued to make his case throughout the night.
He finished with a game-high 51 yards on 13 carries, using impressive lateral quickness and vision to make his way forward against Miami's backups. Watts' play didn't go unnoticed in the broadcast booth by Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, who opined the 5-foot-9, 208-pound tailback could have a place in the league.
-- Leg strength not an issue for Rams. The sweltering humidity in Miami didn't stop footballs from flying long distances off the feet of St. Louis' specialists.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein made field goals of 49 and 53 yards look easy as the Rams jumped out to a 13-0 lead through three quarters. In between, he had the distance on a 63-yard field goal that hooked just left of the goal post in the waning moments of the first half, much to the relief of Faulk, who had promised 15 minutes of free autographs if the kick went through.
Not to be outdone, Johnny Hekker blasted a punt 76 yards early in the fourth quarter. Of course, it helped that the Dolphins went all-out for the block rather than putting a return man on the field to catch the ball before it was eventually downed at the 14-yard line, but that won't show up in the box score.
You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter @FS_LukeT or email him at email@example.com.