Rams running back Justin Davis has a better grip in this year’s preseason opener
There was no way the ball was going to hit the ground.
Not after last year’s preseason opener, when Rams running back Justin Davis fumbled twice in his first series.
The miscues marred an otherwise impressive debut performance by the former USC tailback, who signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent and spent most of his rookie season on the roster but inactive for games.
On Thursday night, Davis held the ball tight and rushed for 41 yards in seven carries, one of the few bright spots in a 33-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It definitely crossed my mind,” Davis said of last season’s first-game struggle. “But it’s a new year and it’s night and day for me.”
With Todd Gurley and other starters held out, Malcolm Brown started at running back and played two series before Davis came on for the rest of the first half. His top play was a 17-yard run.
“He’s kind of just one cut away,” from breaking longer plays, coach Sean McVay said.
Rookie John Kelly played in the second half and rushed for 77 yards in 13 carries, including a 40-yard run near the end of the third quarter.
“It was a good experience,” said Kelly, a sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee. “It was fun to get an opportunity to get out there and experience the NFL playing against someone in a game setting.”
Rams safety Blake Countess suffered a first-quarter shoulder injury on a play that he was penalized on for lowering his head.
The injury marred an otherwise enjoyable week for a player who grew up only a few minutes from the Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, and had a crowd of nearly 60 family and friends at the game.
Before he was injured, Countess broke up a pass from Joe Flacco intended for Michael Crabtree.
“This is like a homecoming,” Wendell Countess, Blake’s father, said before the game. “It is a business trip, and it’s fun for the friends and family.”
Randy Smith, who coached Countess in youth football, said he teared up when he watched Countess play for Auburn against Michigan in college. Thursday night was the first time watching him in person as a pro.
“Knowing that you helped him develop the love or maintain the love of football, and made a difference in a young man’s life, that’s why you coach,” Smith said.
All the Rams players were on the sideline for the playing of the national anthem. … Receiver KhaDarel Hodge had three catches, including an eight-yard touchdown reception from Brandon Allen in the fourth quarter…. JoJo Natson returned four punts for 57 yards, including one for 29 yards. He also averaged 23 yards for seven kickoff returns…. The Rams are off Friday. They have five remaining practices at UC Irvine that are open to the public. They are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Practices begin at 3 p.m., except for Thursday, which starts at 9:45 a.m.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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