Here are five things to watch when the St. Louis Rams travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans in their second NFL preseason contest (7 p.m. TV: Fox Channel 2 (national broadcast); Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1):
1. Will the Rams’ potentially dominant front seven terrorize Titans rookie and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota?
They may not be in there for long, and don’t expect to see some of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ more exotic schemes, but the Rams’ fearsome front seven should give Mariota and the Titans’ offensive line all it can handle early. With backups seeing plenty of time in the loss to the Raiders last week, linebacker Bryce Hager led the way with eight tackles and backup defensive tackle Louis had seven. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, whose role increases because of the season-ending foot injury to former starter E.J. Gaines, has a lot to gain with more good performances.
2. With left guard Rodger Saffold (shoulder) out, how will a vastly inexperienced Rams offensive line hold up against the Titans?
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Brandon Washington got the bulk of the work at left guard last week when Saffold was injured early in the Raiders game. A 27-year-old former sixth-round pick out of the University of Miami, Washington was beaten for one sack last week but played well otherwise and hopes to take advantage of this opportunity. Look for rookie right tackle Rob Havenstein and rookie right guard Jamon Brown to see a lot of action, too, while the situation at center remains unsettled though Barrett Jones remains listed as the starter.
3. Will the Rams stay with a lot of short drops and quick-out passes or begin taking shots down the field?
In his time in St. Louis, Fisher rarely shows his hand much when it comes to fully unveiling the offensive package. Former Eagles quarterback Nick Foles continues to develop chemistry with his new group of receivers and seems to have formed a close bond with tight end Jared Cook. With short pass plays, maybe the Rams can find a way to make better use of former eighth overall pick Tavon Austin this season.
4. With first-round pick and former Georgia star running back Todd Gurley out of the lineup indefinitely, will Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham develop as a solid force in the backfield?
Gurley will eventually return and the Rams’ didn’t use a first-round pick on him to see him as anything less than a featured back. But before then it’s an opportunity for Mason and Cunningham to continue to cement themselves as durable and effective NFL running backs. Mason ranked second among all rookie running backs last season with 765 yards despite not playing in the first four games. The versatile Cunningham had 246 yards rushing and three touchdowns in 2014 along with 45 pass receptions and also was one of the top kickoff return men in the league.
5. Will former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher receive a warm welcome in his first trip back to Nashville since joining the Rams?
Of course he will. Were it not for a dramatic tackle near the goal line by Rams linebacker Mike Jones that stopped Titans receiver Kevin Dyson just short of scoring, Fisher’s Tennessee Titans would have beaten the Rams in the 2000 Super Bowl.