September 07, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Rams have been stockpiling defensive linemen for so long, end Chris Long has played for three head coaches.

If the franchise is able to end a drought of 11 seasons without a winning record, all of that talent assembled over the years will no doubt be the main reason.

The latest upgrade was free agent Nick Fairley, a tackle that gave the Rams (6-10) five former first-rounders up front. Long was the second pick in 2008 by Scott Linehan. Robert Quinn came during the Steve Spagnuolo/Billy Devaney era, and the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead team added Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.

The offense has plenty of question marks, with Todd Gurley still rehabbing from left knee surgery, two rookie linemen starting, and no established go-to wide receiver for new quarterback Nick Foles.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has an ideal situation by comparison, beginning his second season with virtually everybody back and no new playbook to absorb. The lone casualty is cornerback E.J. Gaines, out for the year following foot surgery.

The pass rush really clicked in the final two-thirds of last season with 40 sacks in the last 11 games after none in the first five. The defense will be needed to step up right away with the Rams opening at home Sunday against the defending NFC champion Seahawks.

''I think we're where we need to be at this point,'' Long said. ''We're going to play them tough and we always do, and they always play us tough.''

Things to watch for from the Rams:

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Rookie offensive linemen Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown played side by side at right tackle and guard the first half of the preseason before the Rams split them up and put Brown at left guard. It's tough enough jumping into the lineup out of college without making that switch.

Coach Jeff Fisher said he'll announce a starting center after practice Wednesday. Tim Barnes started the preseason finale and is likely to get the nod with Demetrius Rhaney serving in a utility role. Barnes has four career NFL starts, Rhaney none.

GURLEY WATCH: The Rams were so high on Gurley, they drafted him 10th overall even though he was injured. Gurley has been practicing the last few weeks but has already been ruled out for the opener and could miss the first three or four games.

Tre Mason, the starter last year, will step in if he's recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the preseason finale, with versatile Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead also in the mix.

FOLES FACTOR: Foles quickly impressed his new team and signed a two-year contract extension last month. He had been entering the final year of his deal and was highly productive when healthy in Philadelphia.

''I think the big thing is I just felt comfortable running the offense, being out there playing again,'' Foles said. ''Now it's getting real. Season's here. I'm excited.''

EMPTY SEATS: The Edward Jones Dome was no more than one-third full for either of the home preseason games, with fans fretting the franchise will move back to Los Angeles after the season. Season ticket sales are down. Owner Stan Kroenke's only public sighting during training camp was in Oxnard, California, where he hobnobbed with Jerry Jones while the Rams practiced with the Cowboys.

Kroenke has been silent about his intentions since acquiring a parcel of land in Inglewood, California, where a stadium could be built. The Rams are year to year on their lease at the dome.

PUT UP TIME: Fisher made a six-win improvement for a 7-9 finish in 2012, his first season, but since then the franchise has treaded water. The Rams backslid a bit last year, struggling after QB Sam Bradford's second consecutive season-ending knee injury.

The Rams were 0-4 in the preseason, not exactly cause for alarm, but not the greatest sign for a franchise desperate for success, either.

''Disappointed we didn't find a way to win a preseason, but I'm also very excited to have it over now - as everybody else is,'' Fisher said.


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