On July 30th (although Sean McVay might be a little skeptical) HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will fire up the cameras because training camp is set to open. After a rough and stressful round of negotiations, it appears as though players will report on time and the owners will fulfill their promise to make it a safe environment. Again, this could all change but it’s looking good.
The Rams come into camp with more questions than Edward Nygma causing prognosticators to sell on the team’s chances this season. In order to prove that they’re not just going to sink to the bottom of the NFC West, there are five training camp battles that need to be solved as they could make all the difference.
Los Angeles Rams Training Camp Battles To Watch For
1. WR – Josh Reynolds vs Van Jefferson
Brandin Cooks is gone (and sure the Rams ate money but somehow Bill O’Brien gifted them with a 2nd round pick, so thank you Bill) and now there is a vacuum at the Rams wide receiver position. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are obviously the two starters but the role of the reliable third guy, that’s up for grabs.
In one corner, there is Josh Reynolds the fourth-year player in a contract year. Reynolds has served the team well coming in when either Kupp or Cooks were injured.
In the other corner is 2nd round draft pick, Van Jefferson. Jefferson was described as another Cooper Kupp meaning he is speedy and more importantly has great hands. That could be an indicator that either the Rams are prepared for a world where the cap shrinks and they can’t sign Kupp and or McVay covets this specific type of receiver meaning Reynolds could be on the way out regardless.
Reynolds is taller at 6’3, but Jefferson has the weight advantage. Reynolds is likely to win this bout given his seniority and receivers on average struggling in their rookie year. Still, Jefferson could have a big camp and then Reynolds becomes an extremely overqualified fourth option.
2. RB1 – Cam Akers vs Darrell Henderson vs Malcolm Brown
Of the training camp battles, this doesn’t seem like it would be a triple threat but it is. Sean McVay seems to be aiming to have a more running back by committee that his friend and rival Kyle Shanahan implemented up north.
By all accounts, Akers is the leader in the clubhouse and has become the subject of many a fantasy sleeper column that he’s no longer a sleeper. This is because he’s got the potential to be as deadly a receiver as he is a runner.
That doesn’t give him the automatic start, however, as Malcolm Brown has been the unsung hero in the backfield, especially when the team could no longer count on Todd Gurley, so he could very well be the lead-off back. He can catch and he is someone who could be an every-down back if asked.
Henderson had flashes of greatness his rookie season but they came few and far between. There’s a chance he becomes the change of pace back that suddenly becomes a waiver wire hero on many a fantasy team because he’s a home run threat.
Akers might wind up with the most volume but whether or not he earns the ability to actually start is another story.
3. RT – Bobby Evans vs Rob Havenstein
Rob Havenstein might be the guy with the big contract but he didn’t play like it in 2019. Evans stepped in once Havenstein went down and helped stabilize the line towards the end of the season. What’s interesting is that of the training camp battles, this one also extends beyond one position. Both of these guys are also potentially competing to take over for Andrew Whitworth if he retires next year (he signed an extension but at his age who knows) or if he gets hurt this season (knock on wood he doesn’t) both will be on the starting line.
Evans is the future and is cheap so if Havenstein can’t beat him out he could be flipped for a pick but it’s up to Havenstein to prove he’s still the tackle of the present and the future.
4. G/C – Joe Noteboom vs Brian Allen vs Austin Blythe vs David Edwards vs Austin Corbett vs Cohl Cabral
The reason this battle is big enough to be set in an Elimination Chamber is that the interior of the offensive line is a bit of a mystery as they can all presumably be plugged into any spot. Noteboom and Allen are coming off an injury and Edwards became a bright spot on the line towards the end of the year. Corbett came over at the trade deadline and never really became a factor but with a whole camp who knows? Cabral is a rookie but it’s entirely possible he could make an impact as well given how Edwards and Bobby Evans did last season. Hell, there’s a world where seventh-pick Tremayne Anchrum sees some time. The interior of the offensive line is one of the craziest training camp battles and there could be any number of winners.
5. LBs – Samson Ebukam vs Terrell Lewis vs Malcolm Floyd vs Obo Okoronkwo vs Micah Kiser vs Justin Lawler
The linebacker position has been derided by prognosticators as the worst in the league. The Rams weirdly let Cory Littleton go to Vegas and Clay Matthews got cut, and like Jackie Earl Haley in “Semi-Pro,” is waiting for the Rams to cut him a check. Not only that, but the Rams also fired Wade Phillips because they wanted a more flexible scheme.
Brandon Staley (who has yet to call a play so fingers crossed) plans to run a scheme that is adaptable to any situation. None of the contenders are likely to become a Khalil Mack or Von Miller (both coached at one point by Staley) but they won’t have to be. The Rams have a lot of talent both upfront and in the secondary to where the inexperience at linebacker won’t be their death knell.
Malcolm Floyd is likely a starter given he was one of the Rams few big free agent pick-ups but who knows.
Samson Ebukam has had moments of brilliance in Wade’s system so by virtue of playing time he has a leg up.
Justin Lawler has been someone that hasn’t gotten much playing time but has always been looked at as someone who could contribute but it needs to be seen.
Michah Kiser has struggled with injuries but given his talent could easily be a starter on day one.
Obo is someone who is a bit of a folk hero to fans because of his athleticism. There is the potential for him to really be an effective pass rusher and he will finally be healthy enough to get a real shot in camp.
Finally, there is rookie Terrell Lewis who Brandon Staley was over the moon for. Lewis has his own injury history to overcome but his raw talent and his Alabama pedigree make him someone with an extremely promising future if not an extremely bright present.
This unit is likely to experience some growing pains at the beginning of the season, but by the end, could coalesce into a solid unit. The linebacker battle is the most wide-open of all the training camp battles.
The Rams training camp looks to be one of the most intriguing in the league. There is a lot of talent on this roster and this team is largely two years removed from being in the Super Bowl. They aren’t rebuilding so much as reloading and the question is whether or not they acquired the right type of ammo. These training camp battles hopefully will answer a lot of questions for fans and for bearish prognosticators.