ST. LOUIS — The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are coming to town, but you can be forgiven for not excitedly counting down the hours to 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Ravens are visiting for a preseason game against the Rams, the fourth and final one, at that. Most teams tend to sit their regulars in the preseason finale under normal circumstances, and the Ravens have even more reason to keep their regulars on the bench. Baltimore opens the regular season at Denver next Thursday, three days before the rest of the league.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher isn’t expecting to see Baltimore’s A team. “It’s reasonable to assume that they’re probably going to rest some key players,” he said.
So you are not likely to watch Super Bowl hero Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice or any other key members of the champs. But there still are reasons to watch. Here are four:
RAMS REGULARS — SOME OF THEM, ANYWAY
Fisher is known to play his regulars more than most coaches in preseason finales, but he has been noncommittal about this week’s playing time. When pressed by reporters trying to determine how much the starters would play, Fisher said, “We’re going to make some adjustments, so that’s really all I can say.”
Even if the big names sit out all or most of this one, plenty of notable Rams should see the field. Among the position battles that still appear up for grabs include backup quarterback and safety. Rookie receiver Stedman Bailey should get his most extensive look as he tries to move up the depth chart, and linebacker Alec Ogletree could use another strong game to build on his success in Denver last Saturday.
Pay attention to special teams, too. Those who stand out on special teams usually find a spot on the 53-man roster.
RAMS ON THE RUN
With so much attention focused on Sam Bradford and his upgraded set of receivers this summer, the St. Louis rushing attack has gone unnoticed in the preseason games. Or maybe the ground game has been overlooked because it has underachieved. The Rams have gained 92, 52 and 50 yards in the exhibitions while averaging barely 3 yards a carry.
Fisher figures to focus more of the offense on rushing against the Ravens. “I think you’ll probably see some more (rushing attempts),” he said.
Whether that means much of starter Daryl Richardson is another matter. Richardson carried five times at Denver last Saturday after not getting any rushing attempts in Week 2 against Green Bay. Still, the Rams know what Richardson can do.
What they still seem to be figuring out is who will be his primary backup. Last year’s second-round pick, Isaiah Pead, hasn’t distinguished himself this preseason and is out for the season opener because of a league-mandated suspension. That leaves a couple of rookies, fifth-round pick Zac Stacy and undrafted Benny Cunningham, as the most likely candidates.
THE BATTLE TO BACK UP BRADFORD
When Fisher said “there could be some jobs decided” Thursday night, he might have been talking about backup quarterback. Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis remain in another too-close-to-call competition, based on their play in practice as much as the exhibitions.
Davis, the youngster, made the 53-man roster last season but Clemens, who was cut and then brought back in September, was the only one of the two to see game action. He didn’t see much, either. In two appearances, he completed one of three passes with an interception.
THE BATTLE FOR THE SIXTH WIDEOUT
The final roster definitely will include five receivers: Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick and Bailey. It might include six. If it does, the final spot figures to go to practice squad holdover Nick Johnson or one of two undrafted rookies, Justin Veltung or Emory Blake, so you can expect them to play plenty against the Ravens.
The difference could come down to their play on special teams, which would give Veltung an edge. He didn’t sign with the Rams until July 31, three days after he had been cut by the Seahawks.
“He picked the system up very quickly,” Fisher said. “He’s active in the slot as an inside receiver and he does good things for us in the coverage areas on special teams.”
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.