Inexperience at a key position in the offense: The Rams had a dearth of talent at the tight end position, so they selected Joe Klopfenstein (2nd-round) and Dominique Byrd (3rd-round) in the draft. While Klopfenstein appears to have the early edge in camp, you should see plenty of both on Thursday night. New head coach Scott Linehan likes to make the tight ends an active part of the passing game, so the emphasis during the draft wasn't a big surprise. Both rookies have good hands, focus, and run smart routes. They have the ability to find soft spots deep in the zones as well. But they are rookies, so it will be interesting to see how quickly they can contribute in their first preseason game. Neither one is more than adequate in blocking, and the Rams are still trying to figure out which of their other tight ends on the depth chart can emerge as a blocking tight end ofr short-yardage situations.
What it means for the Colts:New strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner has primary responsibility for whichever player lines up at the No. 1 tight end spot. And since Linehan likes to use his tight ends, Gardner will need to be on his toes early. It will be a great opportunity for him to show Tony Dungy that his confidence in him was justified. After the first-team defense comes out, the responsibility will switch to third-rounder Freddie Keiaho, which should be great fun to watch.
Can the defense pull it together? Former Saints head coach Jim Haslett is the Ram's third defensive coordinator in four seasons. So for the returning players, it's another year of trying to learn the scheme and style of another leader. To further complicate matters, the Rams brought in new players in hopes of infusing on-the-field leadership and much-needed talent.
Defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon and strong safety Corey Chavous will be amongst a bare minimum of five new starters -- roughly have the defensive team. And while it's a necessary step, expect to see some confusion on the way to getting this defense clicking together. Glover was released by Dallas while Witherspoon and Chavous came on board as unrestricted free agents.
The Rams have had spirited competition in camp at free safety, both cornerback spots and at strong-side linebacker. Additionally, Jimmy Kennedy has moved on the defensive line to become the starter at nose tackle.
What it means for the Colts: Unfortunately for the new-look Rams defense, the Colts are returning with their entire offense from last year intact with the exception of Edgerrin James. While the starting unit for the Rams tries to work together for the first time, Manning & Co. should be able to move the ball pretty easily. Of course, the first-team will probably only play a couple of series, and the Rams are likely to leave their starters out there longer to give them more time to get used to playing together. So an early pendulum swing in the Colts favor could even out as the Colts start subbing earlier than the Rams do.
Question marks and inexperience at left guard: The Rams used a number of starters at left guard last season and the early favorite heading into Thursday night appears to be Richie Incognito. Seventh-round pick Mark Setterstrom has gotten some opportunities with the first-team as of late, so the position is most definitely still up in the air.
Either way, the Colts will in effect be seeing a rookie at that spot early in the game. Incognito injured his knee at the NFL Combine in 2005 and didn't see any action last year as a result.
What it means for the Colts: Whether Incognito or Setterstrom line up at the guard position, the Colts defense will effectively have a rookie to rough up a bit. Darrell Reid is expected to be the defensive tackle that will work against the Rams' left interior attack. Between the nice camp he's had so far, and the opportunity to line up against an inexperienced opponent, watch for him to have some early success in this game.