Some jobs still available as Rams host Ravens

News-DemocratAugust 28, 2013 

— The St. Louis Rams haven't gone winless in the preseason since 2002, the year after their loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.

They started off 0-4 in the regular season and finished with a 7-9 record that season.

The Rams will be trying to avoid going 0-4 in the preseason for the first time since then when they play the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome.

"Yeah,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said when asked if it was important to win a preseason game. "I mean you set out to win each and every preseason game. Sometimes it doesn't happen. So, that's our focus: Winning the game. In addition to that, we still need to continue to evaluate players and finish up strong.''

Last year, Fisher played his starters well into the second quarter of the team's final preseason contest, a 31-17 win over the Ravens.

Fisher indicated that he'll likely change up that approach this year.

"We're going to make some adjustments, so that's really all I can say,'' Fisher said.

In other words, the Rams already have several players nursing injuries, and he doesn't want to risk having any more key players getting banged up.

The game will be the last chance for many of the young players trying to make the Rams' roster to catch the coaching staff's eye.

The Rams must cut their roster from 75 players to 53 players by 5 p.m. Saturday.

Some of the position battles still ensuing are Kellen Clemens vs. Austin Davis for role of backup quarterback, Chris Williams vs. Shelley Smith for the starting spot at left guard and Chase Reynolds vs. Zac Storey vs. Benjamin Cunningham for the role of backup running back in Week 1 when Isaiah Pead is serving a suspension.

The Rams also have yet to settle on kickoff returner.

Rookie Tavon Austin will return punts, but Chris Givens, Pead and Cunningham all are vying to return kickoffs.

Givens was the Rams' kickoff returner last season, returning 23 kicks for an average of 23.4 yards, but his increased role on offense means the team would prefer not risking injury with him on special teams.

"I think we've got a punt returner,'' Fisher said. "Then we've got Chris Givens, we know what he can do. I like what Isaiah has done on the practice field. He's getting better at it, and I'm perfectly comfortable with Benny (Cunningham) doing it. He picked up 15 yards on his own by himself the other night."

Cunningham has returned only two kickoffs in the preseason, but he has the Rams' longest return with a 39-yarder.

An undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State, Cunningham realizes that returning kicks offers him a shot at making the Rams' roster.

"Me being possibly the odd man out, I feel like I have to attack special teams, so that's something I have been trying to do every day," Cunningham said.

The Ravens are 2-1 in the preseason. They lost several key players from their Super Bowl squad, including linebacker Ray Lewis (retirement), safety Ed Reed (now with the Houston Texans), center Matt Birk (retirement) and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (now with San Francisco 49ers).

The Ravens added outside linebacker Elvis Sumervil, defensive ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Michael Huff, inside linebacker Daryl Smith and wide receiver Brandon Stokely in free agency.

Last year, Ravens coach John Harbaugh sat all of his offensive starters and many of his defensive starters in the preseason finale against the Rams.

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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