ST. LOUIS — Uncertainty remains for the Rams at quarterback, but this week’s discussions seem to feature a more optimistic outlook.
The injury report hasn’t changed much, with Shaun Hill’s availability still in doubt as he recovers from a quad strain suffered in the first half of a season-opening loss to Minnesota. But the veteran’s absence no longer feels like a potential disaster after the successful first career start of Austin Davis.
Davis did everything he needed to while completing 22-of-29 passes for 235 yards and no interceptions in a 19-17 win. More importantly, he demonstrated plenty of poise, confidence and ability by throwing to almost everywhere on the field and connecting with eight different receivers, occasionally under serious pressure.
After the game, coach Jeff Fisher offered plenty of praise for Davis, especially his game management. Clearly work during the week with coaches and Hill to break down Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith’s defensive schemes paid off, leaving Hill quite impressed.
"I told him how great he did," Hill said. "That was the only evaluation you could come up with for that game. He played wonderful. Very, very excited for him."
But at the same time, the past couple weeks haven’t been easy for the career backup. Just when Hill had finally gotten his first chance to quarterback an NFL game in three seasons, another setback sent him back to the sideline.
Progress on his health has been hard to gauge, though Hill said he saw some improvements on Wednesday. Davis remained the man under center for about 95 percent of the snaps.
"This is about not setting him back so we don’t want to put him in position out here on the field to where we’re risking setting him back," Fisher said. "He’s day-to-day and we’ll see where it goes."
The danger of making Hill’s injury worse appears to be real, so knowing Davis is a viable option certainly helps Rams coaches. However, Fisher has given continued assurances Hill will step back into the starting role just as soon as he’s ready.
After all, Hill looked to be in sync and would have completed his first seven passes if not for a drop on a simple screen to running back Zac Stacy. Penalties kept the Rams from scoring more than Hill’s arm, though he acknowledged that his interception late in the first half was the result of a poor decision.
Meanwhile, Davis’ big day doesn’t completely erase some of his issues with pressure in the preseason and against Minnesota, especially since injuries forced Tampa Bay to play with essentially its second-string defensive line. The Bucs rarely rushed more than four and Davis gave a lot of credit to his teammates up front for giving him plenty of time to throw.
He’ll face a tougher front seven against Dallas, though the Cowboys defensive line should by no means be considered elite. Plus, Dallas now has an entire game’s worth of film to watch, and coach Jason Garrett says he’s noticed a few small differences between Hill and Davis during this week’s preparation.
"I don’t think they’re holding anything back with either one of them and they might feature certain plays with one guy over the other guy," Garrett said in a conference call Wednesday. "They both have done a nice job for them and both seem very comfortable running the Rams’ offensive scheme."
Those are the same things Fisher has been saying since Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the preseason. Many wondered if the Rams could recover, and it’s still too early for a definitive answer.
Emergency option Case Keenum’s chances seem to be getting smaller by the day, but he’ll continue to make progress in learning St. Louis’ offense as well.
But it’s probably safe at this point to trust Fisher’s judgment as far as who plays, even if Davis performs admirably again this Sunday. Hill earned his chance and deserves a real shot, something he didn’t get in just one half filled by mistakes from his teammates.
The Rams aren’t going to have an elite quarterback this season, and anything seems possible when speculating about the future. For the next 14 games, though, they have leaders capable of starting in this league and maybe even finding success, provided the rest of the team can offer some help.