Now, the familiar faces have pulled up to Los Angeles Rams training camp.
Tuesday morning saw the flock of veterans enter the building at Newport Beach, California, signifying that the preparation for the 2021 season is soon to be in full swing. They’ve come after the rookies and quarterbacks got settled into their camp post on Sunday.
One of the first to enter? Longtime Ram Johnny Hekker.
Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day came in with a smile and notepad.
Inside linebacker Kenny Young arrived with Michael Jackson vibes on his shirt.
And of course, it’s not a Rams training camp without the tone setter on defense and the highest rated defender on Madden with his 99 rating for the fifth straight year Aaron Donald.
But now that the veterans are in the building, and now that fans will be heading to Crawford Field on the UC Irvine campus on Wednesday, it’s time to get a better idea of what to anticipate plus predict for the march to the season opener on September 12. Here are four things to watch on offense and defense.
All Eyes On the Backfield & Quarterback
Starting with the offense, at first Matthew Stafford was set to be the most scrutinized Ram among fans in his L.A. debut. But now it looks like it will be him and Darrell Henderson Jr. Here’s my early call for this week and preseason:
Stafford will wow fans with his arm: Usually, open practices mean “vanilla” stuff being ran – which means teams keep things simple, but it’ll be perceived as boring for spectators. However, I have a gut feeling Stafford will be allowed to throw a bomb or two during one of the open practices to really energize the fans. Watch out for online videos of that from any attendee.
Henderson will get a carry count: Think of a pitcher in baseball who gets a pitch count to limit his arm usage. Sounds like the projected RB1 in place of the injured Cam Akers will get something similar. Head coach Sean McVay has already told reporters that Henderson won’t play during the preseason, as they plan to save him for the Chicago Bears to open the season. This also likely means Henderson will get limited reps during live practice sessions to prevent another injury in the backfield. Staying with the backfield…
Jones will be next man up, to Henderson: Xavier Jones is entering his most important offseason yet. With Henderson being limited for regular season purposes, expect the second-year back Jones to get an increased load. There’s a higher chance he’ll be RB1 for the three preseason games.
One of the rookies will amaze the spectators: Unfortunately, second rounder Tutu Atwell received a setback with being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, which means his first practice may not be until August 4. But fans will no doubt be energized about his speed. Outside of the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Atwell, the taller rookie option Jacob Harris will likely be caught on camera outjumping a cornerback in the end zone or dominating during red zone sessions with his 6-foot-5, 211-pound frame.
Defense to Set the Tone in Camp
Raheem Morris is entering his first Rams training camp by taking the reins of the league’s best defense from 2020. So what can we expect at Irvine and in the three preseason games?
He won’t fix what ain’t broke: Morris told reporters in his introductory press conference that he’s not planning to make wholesale changes to the defense ran previously by Brandon Staley. Sounds like the basic stuff Staley ran will be ran during the open practices. However…
Versatility on display: Morris is likely going to move Donald up and down the line. Joseph-Day could be another especially since he spent the offseason working on pass rush moves. Rookie Earnest Brown IV is another Swiss Army-knife trench option as a five or nine-technique defensive end, but has experience sliding inside. In the secondary, rookie Robert Rochell is an early candidate who could be aligned as a slot cornerback or safety and will battle David Long for the nickel CB spot.
The spot opposite of Leonard Floyd will be a heated battle: Floyd was the best pass rusher at outside linebacker. But the Rams have a chance to use this period to discover his permanent counterpart. Justin Hollins has experience, but Ogbonnia “Ogbo” Okoronkwo is entering a critical fourth season after injuries have limited him in his first three seasons. Rookie seventh rounder Chris Garrett could also bring his rushing skills to the table. Either way, the option opposite of Floyd will likely be tasked with attacking the QB.
Safety rotation?: Like the LB’s, the safety spot dealt with injuries. Now, Terrell Burgess is at full health. So is Taylor Rapp. Jordan Fuller broke through and led this unit in interceptions last year. Nick Scott could also go from special teamer to pushing for a starting spot, especially with two years left on his contract. Two intriguing undrafted rookies are Paris Ford (from Donald’s alma mater Pitt) and Troy Warner (brother of 49ers LB Fred). A rotation here could be imminent.