When the Rams and New Orleans Saints kick off the preseason Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome, it will be a special night for the young players on both squads who are seeking to make an impression and take a major step toward earning a roster spot.
“This is big for me, just getting out there to compete, to get on the football field again in front of the fans with the lights on,’’ Rams rookie cornerback Greg Reid said.
Because of off-field issues and a pair of knee surgeries, Reid has not played in a game since Dec. 29, 2011, when he and his Florida State teammates rallied to beat Notre Dame 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Reid’s memories of the game?
“Winning,’’ he answered quickly.
Reid, 23, spent three successful seasons with the Seminoles. As a freshman in 2009, he led the nation with an 18.4-yard average on punt returns and then made 23 starts at cornerback during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. In that time, he intercepted seven passes and scored three times on punt and kickoff returns.
But Reid was dismissed from the Florida State squad before the 2012 season for a violation of team rules. He transferred to Division II Valdosta State, only to suffer a season-ending knee injury during a scrimmage there. He underwent another knee surgery last May, forcing him to sit out the 2013 season.
The Rams signed Reid to a free-agent contract in late March.
“It’s a blessing to actually wear a helmet and shoulder pads and come out here and compete and do something I love,’’ the 23-year-old said after Wednesday’s workout at Rams Park. “Just knowing how quick things can change, how quick the game can be taken away from you.
“The last couple of years, I didn’t know if I’d ever play football again, so being here now, it’s a blessing and a pleasure.’’
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Reid enjoyed his best practice as a Ram on Monday when he made a pair of solid hits along the sideline and later picked off a pass in the flat.
“Just playing football; I love to hit,’’ he said. “It’s game week and I’m just trying to make things like that become a habit.’’
Reid is excited to be back but knows he must play under control.
“I catch myself trying to make every play,’’ he said. “I just need to focus on my responsibility, on doing my job.’’
Safety Christian Bryant, a seventh-round draft pick in May, took the practice field as a Ram for the first time on Monday after opening camp on the non-football injury list. He was also a full participant on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It feels good just getting on the field finally. I’ve been waiting a long time for this, but the trainers are trying to ease me back in,’’ the 22-year-old from Ohio State said. “Physically, I feel fine. This training staff has done a magnificent job of getting me back where I need to be, strengthening my ankle and giving me the mobility and the explosion I need.’’
A three-year starter and team leader for the Buckeyes, Bryant suffered a broken leg and a fractured ankle with just seconds to play in a victory over Wisconsin on Sept. 28.
“It’s been 10 or 11 months, so it just felt good getting back out on the field again,’’ the 5-foot-9, 198-pound Bryant said. “It’s been tough, watching the other guys, but that’s where your mental strength has to kick in. It was frustrating at first, but I have a great support system back home; whenever I’m down or need someone to talk to, I could call mom, dad, grandmother, anybody in the family just to keep me upbeat.’’
Bryant even managed to get in a little extra work after practices this week.
“I’m still not in full football shape so hopefully a little extra running will help speed up that process,’’ he said. “I still have some catching up to do on the field, but I’ve been in my playbook and watching film every night, trying to make sure I’d be ready mentally.’’
The Rams held a short special teams practice on Wednesday morning.
It was more of a walk-through than anything else.
No pads, which meant no hitting.
The team’s next open-to-the-public workout will be at 3:30 p.m. Monday.
• Four Rams’ Super Bowl champions were on hand for Wednesday’s workout — wide receiver Torry Holt, defensive tackle D’Marco Farr, defensive end Grant Wistrom and center Andy McCollum.
McCollum coaches youth football locally and helps with the Eureka High football program.
Wistrom brought several members of his youth football team from Springfield, Mo. But Wistrom explained that only the 9-year-olds who made it to every practice during a two-week camp were eligible to make the trip.
• Author/sportswriter Peter King of Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback fame was on hand to watch Wednesday’s workout.
• Former Mizzou tight end Chase Coffman has been signed by the Tennessee Titans.