While St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his offensive staff have an exact formula and game plan heading into the 2015 season, don’t expect them to unveil it during the second preseason game Sunday night in Tennessee against the Titans.
Or in any other preseason game, for that matter. Game time is 7 p.m. at Nissan Stadium in Nashville., Tenn. (TV: Fox Channel 2; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1).
It seems a bit awkward with breaking in a new quarterback in Nick Foles and rookies and second-year players sprinkled throughout the offensive line and the backfield, but Fisher rarely veers from the path of keeping as much hidden as possible.
He also used the recent joint practices against the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, Calif., to create a lot more game situations.
“We’re going to increase everybody’s reps depending on the series and things like that,” said Fisher, who indicated Foles will see more time than the two series he got at the beginning of the 18-3 preseason loss to the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 14. “The one thing that we did get, which is really important for us for where we are now, is we got great reps against Dallas ... we almost got an extra preseason game.
“We’ll increase reps, but some guys may play less. We’ll give Nick a chance to play a little bit.”
Among things Fisher probably didn’t like last week against the Raiders were the 10 penalties for 75 yards, a consistent Rams issue in recent years, and an offense largely stuck in neutral for much of the night. The Rams’ run defense, sometimes porous in recent years, also didn’t play exceedingly well though in fairness there were numerous backups in the game much of the night.
“We want to keep the penalties down,” Fisher said. “I’d like to see the run game continue to improve. It’s the same thing with the defense, defense against the run. When you tackle and just do those things, it’s a progression. It’s about improvement so that’s what we’re looking for.”
Veteran Brandon Washington will start at left guard for the Rams in place of injured starter Rodger Saffold, with rookies Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown expected to see a lot of playing time on the right side of the offensive line.
“Both Rob and ‘JB’ I thought played well against Oakland and had a good two days of practice against a good Cowboy defense,” Fisher said. “So they’re continuing to improve and are learning every day. They act like they’ve been there before. (Offensive Line Coach Paul) ‘Bou’ (Boudreau) has done a great job with them and I have no hesitation whatsoever starting the season with both of them.”
Fisher said he likes the way second-year cornerback Lamarcus Joyner is adjusting to more playing time since the season-ending injury to former starter E.J. Gaines.
“He’s going to be our inside guy,” Fisher said of Joyner, a 2014 second-round pick from Florida State. “He’s improving every day. He’s light years ahead of where he was last year. It was all happening really fast and it’s starting to slow down for him.
“When he knows exactly what to do, he does it very well. We’re counting on him to be effective in the slot, which means as a third corner, you’re probably going to play 50-60% of our snaps.”
The Titans game also marks a Tennessee homecoming for Fisher, who coached the Titans for 16 seasons and makes his first trip back to Nashville for a game since 2010. His tenure with the Titans includes six playoff appearances, three division titles and the 2000 Super Bowl loss to the Rams.
Along with Fisher, seven other Rams coaches and five players have Titans ties, including defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, wide receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook.
Rams defensive end Williams Hayes, linebacker Akeem Ayers and receiver Damian Williams also played previously for the Titans.
The Titans are expected to show a video tribute covering Fisher’s time with the team during pregame ceremonies.
“That’s the first that I’ve heard of it,” said Fisher, who still has property in the Nashville area. “So I’ll probably miss it. Coaches on the sideline don’t watch stuff on the board.”
Fisher was pressed about the emotions of returning a place he coached for many seasons and still holds the franchise record with 147 wins.
“I had great memories down there, but obviously it’s been a while,” Fisher said. “There’s some other guys in addition to myself that have some special memories there. I have great memories. The thing reflecting back, it’s the relationships with the players. All of the players that came through there, getting through the move process, the relocation process, and then the ’99 season and the 2000 season, where I think we had a better team than we did in ’99.”
The Titans’ main object of attention this preseason is rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. The second overall pick in the NFL draft and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mariota threw for 4,454 yards and 42 touchdowns last season while leading Oregon to a runner-up finish in the College Football National Championship Game.
Mariota was 7-for-8 for 94 yards last week, but his first two possession resulted in turnovers with an interception and a fumble. He also guided the Titans on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on his third series that saw him complete five straight passes for 78 yards.
Mariota should be tested by the Rams’ veteran sack-happy defense led by defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.