Five things to watch for in Rams vs. Raiders
There is optimism surrounding the St. Louis Rams - and for good reason.
Their defense could potentially be the best in the league and they drafted a top running back (Todd Gurley), who could turn out to be a franchise star.
Still, under Jeff Fisher's watch, the club has yet to reach the postseason.
Will this be the season that the Rams turn a corner and take the next step?
Here are five things to watch for in the Rams' first preseason game:
1. The Nick Foles era begins
Outside of drafting Todd Gurley, acquiring Nick Foles was arguably the biggest addition to this Rams roster. The reviews on Foles out of training camp have been glowing. In fact, Chris Givens called him "the best quarterback he's ever played with." Other teammates have also raved about his leadership and his command of the huddle. The Rams clearly saw enough, too, in rewarding Foles with a two-year extension. The connection between Foles, his offensive line and receivers is something to keep an eye on throughout the preseason.
2. Is Tavon Austin for real?
Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and head coach Jeff Fisher have both publicly supported Tavon Austin in training camp. Cignetti has been impressed with his offseason improvement in specific areas, including his route running; Fisher believes 2015 could be a breakout year for the third-year man out of West Virginia. Austin has the ability to be a difference maker on special teams and at wide receiver for the Rams. Whether he can put it all together come fall remains to be seen.
3. Offensive line in flux
The team used five draft picks in the 2015 NFL Draft on offensive linemen to shore up a unit that allowed 47 sacks in 2014, eighth highest in the league. Greg Robinson (left tackle) and Rodger Saffold (left guard) are expected to start with the center, right tackle and right guard positions an uncertainty. Through training camp so far, rookies Rob Havenstein (right tackle) and Jamon Brown (right guard) are the favorites to start. Centers Tim Barnes (four career starts), Barrett Jones (zero career starts) and Demetrius Rhaney (missed all of last season due to injury) have rotated reps with the first team. Keeping Foles upright - and healthy - should be a priority if the Rams see him as the quarterback of the future. But who will be protecting him is a bigger question mark now.
4. Backup quarterback battle
Presumably, it's Case Keenum and Austin Davis battling it out for a roster spot. Sean Mannion likely makes the final cuts considering the Rams used a third-round pick on him. This position battle is certainly something to keep an eye on considering Foles missed eight games in 2014. Both Davis and Keenum have starting experience, though. The former started eight games in 2014 with Sam Bradford sidelined all year, while the latter has 10 career starts under his belt.
5. Jared Cook watch
Since coming over from Tennessee, Jared Cook has yet to live up to expectations that earned him a five-year, $35 million contract. In consecutive seasons, however, he's led the team in receptions. But the revolving door at quarterback could also be a cause for Cook's inconsistency. Sam Bradford never managed to stay healthy; Davis and Shaun Hill split eight starts apiece in 2014; even Kellen Clemens started nine games in 2013. If Foles can stay healthy, would that alone be enough to elevate Cook's play?