September 10, 2014

Jeff Fisher doesn't like to "mess around" when it comes to his quarterbacks, but he's currently on his third starter under center just one game into his third season as St. Louis Rams coach.

He's not about to name a fourth unless he's forced to do so.

Fisher was adamant that Shaun Hill will be his man against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers barring injury in Sunday's road contest for the Rams, whose health problems now include standout defensive end Chris Long missing at least six weeks.

Hill was thrust into the starting job after Sam Bradford suffered his second torn ACL in nine months during the preseason, and Fisher felt Hill was effective during the first half of last week's 34-6 loss to Minnesota in the season opener.

The long-time backup gave way to undrafted rookie Austin Davis in the second half, though, after being hobbled by a left quadriceps injury. Fisher insisted Hill was not removed for performance-based reasons.

Davis was sacked four times and threw an interception.

"Shaun's our quarterback, so if he's healthy he starts," Fisher said. "And that will be the case throughout the season."

Fisher is trying to bring some stability to a position that has been plagued by Bradford's injuries over the last two years. Kellen Clemens started the final nine games last season after Bradford suffered his first knee injury.

"I'm telling you the truth, I've never messed around with the quarterback situation in my entire career," Fisher said. "I'm speaking truthfully. He had a quad strain, and I took him out of the game. Period."

No matter who is taking the snaps, Fisher isn't limiting his team's drastic need for improvement to his quarterbacks. Zac Stacy finished with just 43 yards on 11 carries as the Vikings forced St. Louis into passing situations, and it also committed two turnovers.

Defensively, the Rams allowed a 67-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson that put the Rams behind by 17 late in the third quarter.

"That's not the end all, be all of the season, but it's Week 1. We wanted to show ourselves better than that," Long said. "It's our job to prove that that's not indicative of who we are."

Long won't have a chance to help that cause for quite a while after leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Long, who has 50 1/2 sacks in six-plus seasons, needs surgery and has been placed on the injured reserve-designated to return list.

Despite the absence of Long, the Rams still have a solid front that features All-Pro Robert Quinn. Containing that imposing defensive line may be even more difficult for Tampa Bay if Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins isn't 100 percent.

Mankins, acquired from New England on Aug. 26, left in the second quarter of last Sunday's 20-14 loss to Carolina with a knee injury and did not return. Coach Lovie Smith isn't sure if Mankins will be able to start, but he said the injury wasn't too serious and the team won't seek out another lineman.

"We have 10 guys on our 53-man roster on our offensive line. ... We'll probably choose from that group if Logan can't (go)," Smith said. "But Logan has been injured before. He feels like he'll be able to go."

The Bucs were shut out for the first three quarters of their opener and gained 128 of their 264 total yards in the fourth. They ran only 15 offensive plays in the first half, and Josh McCown, the former Chicago backup who signed in the offseason to be the starter, threw two picks.

"In order to establish an identity, you have to have the ball," Smith said. "I don't think any team has an identity until you get to the season, and then you see what you're going to be, what you can do, and it changes each game."

Tampa will need to see plenty of change on offense. Receiver Vincent Jackson caught four passes for 36 yards, and Doug Martin averaged one yard on his nine carries.

The inability to get the rushing attack going was especially troubling for McCown as he and the rest of the Bucs attempt to navigate a new system.

"We would love to be able to establish an effective running game that we can use," McCown said. "We have to remind ourselves that we're still early in building this thing and we've got to weather the storm through these learning curves. We'll get better."

Tampa hopes its defense has better luck with stopping Stacy than in last season's matchup, as he rushed 33 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Rams' 23-13 victory Dec. 22.

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