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Rams' Fisher not concerned with preseason mistakes

Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:36 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher doesn't let glaring problems such as third down conversions during the preseason bother him all that much.

After all, it's just the preseason.

But does it not concern him that his offense converted just 15 of 56 third downs in four exhibition games?

"They don't," he said Friday. "You're doing so much more on the practice field. We're intentionally not doing things on the field from a scheme standpoint, so that would naturally create some problems for you on third down."

The Rams finished their preseason schedule Thursday with a 24-21 victory against the Baltimore Ravens. St. Louis converted six of 16 third downs against Baltimore, not bad considering starting quarterback Sam Bradford didn't play.

But in its four games, St. Louis lost four of five fumbles — including two against Baltimore — and committed 43 penalties for 294 yards. Fisher said he made it clear to his team at halftime Thursday that the penalties were unacceptable. The Rams were flagged 17 times for 123 yards against the Ravens.

The halftime rant might have been out of mere frustration, though. Fisher told news media both Thursday and Friday that many of the penalties came against players who would not make the final roster. He said, looking over the four preseason games, he could say the same about most of the penalties his team took.

As for the fumbles and third-down efficiency, Fisher sees a difference between what his players had available to them in the preseason and how things will look when the Rams open the regular season Sept. 8 against the Arizona Cardinals.

"We'd like to think we'd be carrying more things into the regular season," he said. "We'll be game-planning, we really haven't game-planned much. We're just kind of keeping things basic."

Bradford wasn't thrilled about the penalties and he didn't want to excuse them because of players' inexperience, a lack of focus or trying too hard to make a good impression. However, he said while the preseason provided some good work, nobody should put much stock in it.

The real work begins Sunday when the team starts its preparation for the season opener.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I thought we had a really good training camp. I thought we did some really good things during the preseason when we were on the field, and now it's full steam ahead getting ready for Arizona next week."

Fisher gave the players Friday and Saturday off to rest and get treatment in preparation for Sunday's practice. In the meantime, the coaching staff will continue planning for the Cardinals and informing those who didn't make the team.

That includes many of the players who contributed Thursday. That game served mostly as a scrimmage for backups and players who were on the verge of being cut ahead of Saturday's deadline to reach a 53-man roster.

Fisher believes the final group of players won't be making the same mistakes the Rams dealt with this preseason.

"We'll get three or four weeks into the season," he said, "and we'll have to identify some areas which we'll have to emphasis."

Missouri healthy for opener, unlike 2012

Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:34 Published in Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Gary Pinkel typically begins his weekly news conference with the injury report. The Missouri coach was most pleased to say everyone available for the season opener.

It's a huge plus for a school entering Year 2 in the SEC and trying to show that it really belongs. The players they tried to do without too often contributed to a 5-7 belly flop that ended a string of seven consecutive bowl trips.

The Tigers open against heavy underdog Murray State on Saturday night, and they're all ready to go.

Pinkel said the most exciting development of fall camp was not an emerging player or a unit that made strides.

"We stayed healthy," the coach said. "That's the No. 1 thing."

This time last year, all-Big 12 running back Henry Josey was in a long-term rehab program from a knee injury, the offensive line was a mess and both backup quarterbacks were coming off brushes with the law. Quarterback James Franklin was working back from shoulder surgery and hoping to make it through the year unscathed, but instead was dogged by an assortment of ailments that sidelined him for four games.

Depth was tested again and again, especially on the offensive line, and often was found wanting.

"I've been in this a long time and we all know the healthier you are, the more success you have," Pinkel said. "There's a quiet confidence having the same guy lining up next to you."

New offensive coordinator Josh Henson was the co-offensive line coach last year and thought he had enough bodies to compete. Based on the preseason pecking order, five of the top seven were hurt at one point.

That increased the challenge for Franklin, and for redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser when he was thrown into the mix when Franklin was out with assorted injuries.

"There's fallout when you lose your starting quarterback, there's fallout when you lose five offensive linemen," Pinkel said. "You don't distribute the ball efficiently. We're sitting there fighting to get first downs."

Linemen thrown into duty have valuable experience in an offense that's undergone a few alterations but probably won't look too much different. Coaches have said there'll be more straight-ahead plays, and Franklin could have company in the backfield at times.

"I don't think it'll be radically different," Henson said. "We still are what we are, a spread team that has really good receivers."

Running back was in capable hands with 1,000-yard rusher Kendial Lawrence last year, but the shifty Josey can be more of a handful. He was all-Big 12 in 2011 though he missed the end of the season after blowing out the knee making a cut on the sideline, and since the start of camp coaches have said he's all the way back.

"The excitement level is very, very unexplainable," Josey said. "I mean, I've been excited for a long time for this moment to come, and finally it's here."

Franklin is one of four team captains and he plans on leading the way. Injuries or not, he accepts his share of responsibility for last season and points out the quarterback must be a difference-maker.

"If a game ever did go bad, even though it's not just one player's fault, I'd rather them blame me than somebody else," Franklin said. "So that's something that really motivates, not letting my teammates down."

Top players on defense are linebacker Andrew Wilson and cornerback E.J. Gaines. The Tigers have produced a turnover in 30 consecutive games dating to October 2010.

Murray State is also coming off a sub-.500 season, going 5-6, among the setbacks a 69-3 spanking at Florida State. Missouri is the lone name opponent on the schedule for the Racers, members of the Ohio Valley Conference.

This is their first game against an SEC school since 2005, although sophomore quarterback Maikhail Miller is a recent transfer from Mississippi.

"It's always an exciting time to open a new season even though you're playing an opponent that's a little tougher than most," coach Chris Hatcher said. "It's a fun week. There's really not a whole lot of pressure on us."

Under Pinkel, Missouri is 9-0 with an average score of 50-7 against FCS teams and nearly hit those numbers its only other meeting against Murray State with a 47-7 win to open 2006 that featured a school-record five touchdown passes from future NFL quarterback Chase Daniel in his first career start.

Cardinals fall to Pirates 5-0 to drop into tie

Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:32 Published in Sports

 

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Shelby Miller's confidence remains intact.

Unfortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals rookie pitcher, so do his struggles against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Slumping Garrett Jones hit his 100th career homer and drove in four runs and the Pirates beat St. Louis 5-0 on Friday night to move into a tie with the Cardinals for the NL Central lead.

"We have an offense that is electric and we've got good pitching," Miller said. "I know this team is going to turn it on. It might not have looked like it tonight but it was a bad night."

It tends to be whenever Miller (12-9) faces the Pirates. He fell to 0-4 against Pittsburgh after 4 1-3 erratic innings, giving up five runs on eight hits, striking out three and walking three.

"I made some mistakes with some pitches and they put good swings on them," Miller said. "At the end of the day, they were better than us."

While blaming himself for not keeping the Cardinals in the game, Miller received little help from an offense that has managed all of one run in Miller's four starts versus the Pirates. St. Louis never even got a runner to third on a night they were no match for revitalized Francisco Liriano.

Two weeks after pitching a complete game in a 5-1 win over the Cardinals, Liriano (15-6) might have been even better. He allowed just two hits while walking two and striking out two.

"They're waiting for him to make a mistake out of over the plate but he's not making many mistakes then you don't have too many options," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "We hit some balls hard but not enough of them in a row then we gave him the lead and that made it even tougher for us."

A rejuvenated Jones certainly helped. The first baseman came in hitting just .119 in August but broke loose after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle gave him some time off earlier this week to figure things out.

For a night, the tinkering worked.

Jones hit a two-run double in the first inning to give Pittsburgh the lead, added a moon shot to the seats in right field off Miller in the fourth and followed it up with an RBI single in the fifth.

That was plenty for Liriano. The left-hander is in the midst of a mid-career revival with the Pirates and he had little trouble improving to 4-0 against the Cardinals, bouncing back from a rough start in San Francisco last weekend to retire 18 of the last 19 batters he faced.

"Anybody with his experience and his determination, when you get a little setback you want to come back and get things right," Hurdle said.

Behind Liriano and Jones, Pittsburgh righted itself following a bumpy three-game set against Milwaukee earlier in the week.

An early boost from Jones certainly helped. Jose Tabata led off with a single and Neil Walker doubled to put runners in scoring position two batters into the game. Miller hit Pedro Alvarez to load the bases and Jones ended a month's worth of frustration by slashing a ball down the right-field line.

Jones kept it going in the fourth, golfing Miller's fastball into the stands. Martin followed with a shot over the wall in center on the next pitch to give Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead.

Jones drove in newly acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd in the fifth, making his entire RBI total this month (four) with three swings of the bat.

Matheny replaced Miller one batter later after a particularly baffling night in which Miller twice walked Liriano - who came in hitting just .075 - on four pitches.

"He never had a real good feel for anything today," Matheny said of Miller. "He threw some good secondary pitches because his fastball wasn't working but they also fouled off a lot of tough pitches and he couldn't command much in the zone."

NOTES: The Cardinals bolstered their bullpen on Friday when they acquired reliever John Axford from Milwaukee. "There's a lot of experience there, a lot of upside," Matheny said. "It's hard to forget that two years ago this guy was one of the top relievers in the game." ... Lance Lynn (13-8, 4.02 ERA) starts for the Cardinals on Saturday against A.J. Burnett (6-9, 3.18).

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