ST. LOUIS On one hand, time on the field is necessary, each repetition crucial in helping a young player develop before results are real.
On the other, injuries understand no difference between preseason and snaps that count toward true victory and defeat. Pain can strike on a tired Thursday in late August or on a Sunday with playoff berths at stake late in the fall. There are no boundaries.
On one hand, the St. Louis Rams were smart to play rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers the 14th overall pick late in the first quarter of a meaningless 31-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at the Edward Jones Dome. Yes, this was the snooze-worthy fourth preseason game. Yes, his spot on the 53-man roster is secure. Yes, the Ravens rested all but three of their first-teamers on defense. But no matter: The hulking LSU product is green, and any work is good work for an unproven talent.
On the other, there was risk involved with Brockers sticking his fingers in the turf on a night that didn't require him doing so. It was seen in the 9.52 million asset being carted toward the locker room with a lower right-leg injury, never to return. There's a reason most presumed starters treat the final preseason game like a beach vacation: The pad cracks pick up intensity soon, and preservation is key.
"Yes, he got an X-ray," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Brockers afterward. "We'll do standard tests (Friday). We'll do the MRI tomorrow, and we will have the results tomorrow."
On one hand, the Rams won't need the results to gauge Brockers' emotional state. He walked from St. Louis' locker room wearing a thick black boot on his foot, smiling and making cracks while moving toward an exit. He appeared no different than he has throughout most of training camp he was light, carefree and composed. Those close to him were optimistic that he would be fine.
On the other, those same teammates know that injury can happen at any time. That's part of NFL life. In this case, a potential gasp moment occurred when Brockers' leg became tangled with guard Jah Reid. Two trainers helped him hobble off the field, and the deserted dome became tense.
"We know any time we take the field, there's that risk of injury," Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford said. "It's a physical game. It's a violent game. It's unfortunate that it happened. I hope the best for him. I think he'll be fine. I saw him walk out of here, so that's a positive."
On one hand, it's positive that Fisher tested his starters as long as he did. It shows that the coach is serious about giving his vision a chance to grow. It sent the message that no preseason game is too empty to present the top unit with measured work. The Rams need plenty of it on both sides of the ball to fix a culture that has produced a 15-65 record over the last five years.
On the other, the plan could have backfired. Players seemed confident that Brockers would return soon. But what if his injury were serious? What if an inconsequential night had produced a significant consequence? What kind of questions would be asked then?
"It's tough to see," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "It could happen on any play. It could happen in practice. We'll see what the docs say (Friday), but he's a tough kid. He'll bounce back. Luckily, it doesn't seem to be anything too terrible. Brock has been making some good strides in preseason, and he'll pick up right where he left off whenever he gets back."
That's what Thursday was about for the Rams. Making strides. Showing that they are working to improve their woeful reputation. Playing Brockers and other starters on a night when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh rested his stars revealed urgency. It's a feeling that should be shared throughout Rams Park.
Still, Brockers' injury showed that drive includes risk. No plan is fail-safe.
"He's a positive guy," Long said. "He's a tough kid. He knows injuries are part of this game, and we're all going to deal with them at some point. He's going to do a good job of treating that thing and getting back out there when he can."
On one hand, it was wise to have Brockers play at all. On the other, pain is never far away.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.