Here are five key things to watch as the St. Louis Rams play host to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday in their final preseason game (7 p.m.; TV: Fox Channel 2; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1).
1. When the shuffling stops on the offensive line, and assuming veteran Rodger Saffold is healthy, who will be lining up where when the regular season begins Sept. 13 against Seattle?
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has tried numerous variations and the shoulder injury to Saffold early in camp allowed the team to take a look at more possibilities. Second-year left tackle Greg Robinson is set, as is rookie right tackle Rob Havenstein. Saffold will most likely fill the right guard spot, with rookie Jamon Brown at left guard if he’s good to go from an ankle strain. Still to be answered is the center question, where Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes are the front-runners. The Rams also seem intrigued by the athleticism of former center candidate Demetrius Rhaney, who has played right and left guard recently. Stay tuned. There are far too many questions for an offensive line being counted on to pound things out on the ground and keep quarterback Nick Foles upright and healthy for 16 games. May have to bring in another veteran.
2. Are there any real camp battles still going on?
Sure there are with 22 players still needing to be cut (or put on the practice squad) to reach the final 53-man roster. Among the hopefuls are Louis Trinca-Pasat, the former Iowa standout who has made some noise along the defensive line with 15 tackles. Fisher pronounced Case Keenum as his backup quarterback behind Foles on Tuesday, leaving veteran Austin Davis battling rookie third-round pick Sean Mannion for the third QB spot. Mannion has that basically in the bag, but the Rams could hope to snag a draft pick from some team interested in Davis. In fairness, Davis has gotten little chance to show what he could do in the first three preseason games so maybe he gets a longer look against the Chiefs. Linebacker Bryce Hager, who leads the team in tackles, has made an impression on defense and special teams.
3. With Todd Gurley still limited, Tre Mason injured and Trey Watts sitting out the first four games with a suspension, what happens at running back?
The best-case scenario would be to get Mason back from his hamstring injury in time for the season opener. There’s always Benny Cunningham, a workman-like ballcarrier who also excels as a receiver, but the Rams seem interested in taking a long look at Isaiah Pead. Rookie Malcolm Brown has also made some plays during camp, but would seem a longshot at best given the Rams’ ability to pick up a veteran off the waiver wire if needed.
4. Can wide receiver Chris Givens keep providing the Rams and Foles a consistent deep threat?
Givens has shown that ability throughout the preseason with seven catches for 179 yards, an average of 25.6 yards per catch. Whether he recaptures his form of his rookie year in 2012, when he had 42 catches for 698 yards and four TDs, is anyone’s guess. But he seems to have made positive strides in that direction.
5. Will the Rams ever find a way to actually limit the amount of penalties they receive?
It’s doubtful. It’s been a consistent companion of Fisher’s teams since he came here and shows no signs of slowing down with 29 already in three preseason games for a whopping 229 yards. A team that will rely heavily on its defense to keep things close cannot afford to continue hurting itself with penalties game after game after game.