Football isn’t in the air, YET! But it will be sooner than you realize. Rams training camp opened this week and their first preseason game against the Chargers is three weeks out and fewer than 50 days remain until the Rams open their season against the Buffalo Bills.
But with the start of Rams training camp, it means the cooks are in the kitchen ready to get the stock boiling. Those first whiffs of sweet sweet pigskin are nearly here. So here is a preview of who I’ll be watching at Rams training camp.
Rams Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line
The Rams offensive line lost two key pieces in the offseason. Andrew Whitworth retired and Austin Corbett left in free agency. The Rams will look to Joseph Noteboom to replace Whitworth and Sean McVay said during spring practices that right guard was an open competition. Logan Bruss can’t be assumed to be Corbett’s replacement, but both McVay and Les Snead have a lot of confidence in the team’s first pick in the draft.
Replacing an All-Pro left tackle is not an easy thing to do. Joe Noteboom will enter Rams training camp attempting to do just that. The Rams are putting a lot of faith in Noteboom to live up to Andrew Whitworth’s very high bar of protecting Matthew Stafford‘s blind side. Noteboom has served as a quality fill-in for Whitworth over the last few seasons when he has missed games due to injury.
Noteboom’s longest stint as a starting lineman came in 2020. He played in 10 regular season games logging a career-high 639 snaps. Last season, he played just 279 snaps. In that small sample size, Noteboom was fantastic. He allowed only five pressures and one sack per PFF. In fact, three of those pressures and his only sack came in week 14 against the Cardinals. So in the rest of his playing time, he was nearly perfect.
Last season, Whitworth and Noteboom actually nearly posted the same pressure to snap rate. Over his 1102 snaps, Whitworth allowed 20 pressures. This is a .0181 pressure/snap rate. Noteboom’s rate was a little better at .0179
In 2020, this was not the case. Noteboom’s pressure rate was .033, nearly double that of 2021. Not only that but WHEN those pressures came may be relevant. Six of those pressures came in the first five games Noteboom played in and 15 of the 21 allowed pressures came in the final 5 games he started. A larger sample size generally sheds light on the true talent of a player.
He also gave up 11 quarterback hits in those 10 games. Whitworth never gave up more than nine over an entire season. Although, it should also be pointed out that Noteboom only allowed one sack despite his generally swiss cheese blocking late in 2020.
So that data highlights several noteworthy questions we can’t currently answer but will bare out during Rams training camp. Did Noteboom take a huge leap forward in his development from 2020 to 2021or was it the small sample size? Can we expect him to make a similar leap in 2022? Is his performance sustainable over 17 games or did defenses in 2020 find a weak spot to attack? And that isn’t even the biggest question. Up until now, we have only looked at pass blocking. Noteboom is not nearly as competent a run blocker as he is in pass protection, although he showed improvement last year in that facet of the game, as well.
It is hard to imagine that Noteboom will simply take over right where Whitworth left off. That is to say, Stafford will feel more pressure in 2022 than last year. Whitworth provided an edge that was a huge reason the Rams got to and won the Super bowl. A drop-off at the left tackle position, even a slight one, has enormous effects on win probability. Whatsmore, Noteboom will be asked to face off against some of the league’s best pass rushers this season. He will face a Bosa brother in three games, Chandler Jones twice, Von Miller, Maxx Crosby, Micah Parsons, and Rashan Gary. All of whom were graded in the top 15 of PFF’s pass rush rankings.
Although the Rams have an incredible track record of developing a player just in the nick of time, replacing one of the most important players, Whitworth, at one of the most important positions, left tackle, will be the biggest test of their developmental model. Rams training camp will shed light on where Noteboom is in his development.
The battle for the starting right guard spot will be hotly contested over the next few weeks at Rams training camp. Bruss, Treymane Anchrum, and Coleman Shelton are the players that rotated at the position during spring practices, but Rams brass has shown a lot of confidence in Alaric Jackson as well. He has college experience playing guard but has played significantly more tackle. If McVay wants to get him playing time sooner than later, this would be Jackson’s fast track. McVay will likely preserve him as a tackle in the event that Havenstein walks in free agency in 2023.
Shelton has the most time on the roster under his belt (since 2019), although he doesn’t have much game experience to show for it. The most significant has been in filling in for Brian Allen when he missed time last season due to an elbow injury. Shelton did a fine job with the playing time he got. Shelton also played a few snaps as a sixth lineman in heavy sets.
Shelton’s case for the job might come down to needing experience to take over the starting left guard role next season. Current starter, David Edwards, is a free agent after this season and the Rams don’t typically chase interior linemen in free agency.
Bruss is slotted in on the depth chart (above) as the starter only because Snead and McVay have stated their belief he could make an immediate impact, but Shelton may have the edge with his experience on the roster. Shelton could very well be an example of a Rams player that has worked his way up the depth chart to earn a starting position. Shelton is under contract through the 2023 season.
Position battles are the easiest thing to track during Rams training camp. Usually, the field is winnowed, and by the end, it’s very clear who won, the guy taking the most reps with the first team. Although last year, the starting five seemed set, until at the last minute, McVay shook things up, replacing Corbett at center with Allen and Bobby Evans with Corbett. The lineup worked out very well together.
The Rams have typically kept nine linemen on their 53-man roster, so veterans like Evans and Chandler Brewer may not make the cut with two rookie linemen on-boarded to the roster. Both of which are in the final year of their contracts.
Rams Training Camp Preview: Secondary
The Rams have invested heavily in their secondary with draft capital. They have drafted 10 players over the last three seasons with four of those selections coming in the most recent draft. The secondary has been the shining example of how the Rams develop players. They have consistently molded low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents into starting caliber players. From Darious Williams and Troy Hill to John Johnson and Jordan Fuller.
What you’ll notice about that list is half of them have moved on to other teams. Of course, what that means is that development must continue. Hence the investment with the draft. Another thing that will stand out, is that Hill left and is now once again a Ram. They traded for him during the draft after drafting Cobie Durant. This means the Rams don’t believe Durant nor Robert Rochell are ready to take a starting role. But Hill’s contract is over after this season and he is currently 31 years old. It is unlikely that the Rams are looking to Hill as a long tern solution opposite Ramsey.
In my view, the Rams starting cornerbacks are set. The interesting thing to watch at Rams training camp will be the development of Rochell and Durant. Both will need to contribute this season because without them able to rotate into the lineup the depth chart looks woefully bare.
Rochell had his ups and downs last season. But for every rookie mistake, there was a play that redeemed him. At Rams training camp, they will be expecting more consistent play coming from a better understanding of their coverage rules. He has the size and speed, he just needs to get to the right spots more consistently.
Durant doesn’t have Rochell’s size, but he is fast. He posted a 4.38 40 time at the Combine. Les Snead was impressed by Durant’s effort against Clemson saying, “Boy did he touch the football. He touched the football at a really high rate. It’s interesting, I remember sitting and watching him play against Clemson and you just felt the competitive football player. He’s blowing up bubble screens and he’s playing the ball down the field, so that was just one of those games where you go ‘okay he stepped it up.’”
What all that says is that Durant is a hungry, smart, tough, football player. What it doesn’t say is whether or not he can translate his game at the NFL level as he did against Clemson. Watching him at Rams training camp will shed light on if he is ready to take snaps as a pro. He will need to be good enough to fill in on the field for between 100-200 snaps on defense. For Rochell, expect 400 plus snaps this season.
Jalen Ramsey enters training camp on the PUP list while recovering from AC joint surgery, but will be ready for the start of the season, in all likelihood.
Development at safety will be an even more intriguing thing to watch at Rams training camp. Both Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott are free agents at the end of the year. So the Rams won’t be retaining both. Rapp will likely receive a larger contract than Scott, but the question is how much the Rams believe in Rapp as a long-term option.
The starting role very well could be a low-key Rams training camp battle. Rapp’s season was marred by mental miscues that shouldn’t be made by a Rams player in his third season. Those kinds of mistakes in training camp can result in fewer reps for a player. The more that happens, the more they will look to Scott at Rams training camp. If Scott rises to the occasion, he could supplant Rapp by the start of the season.
2022 will serve as Terrell Burgess’ “prove it” year and proving it will need to start at Rams training camp. He only got 92 snaps despite a number of injuries in the secondary last season. By far the lowest in the secondary. The addition of Quentin Lake and Russ Yeast in the draft will put pressure on Burgess to perform. Although Lake started training camp on the PUP list.
One notable change concerning Jordan Fuller is he won’t be the defensive play-caller. Bobby Wagner has taken over the green dot. This will allow more rotation at free safety, as the “green dot” has to be on the field for 100 percent of the defensive snaps.
Rams Training Camp Preview: Wide Receiver
The Rams enter training camp with an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. This is largely due to the caliber of Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. That compounded with the prospect of adding Odell Beckham as the third receiver makes this all the harder to comprehend just how many of these guys the Rams can keep.
The one problem with that is that Beckham is currently recovering from an ACL injury and is very much a free agent at the moment. By all accounts, his recovery is on track and both sides, the Rams and Beckham, are amenable to his return to LA. But none of the above are guarantee’s that he will return.
If he does, fitting all this talent on a 53-man roster will be nigh impossible. Cuts will have to be made and even the depth listed above is more than the Rams can likely carry. Although, some of the talents are merely potential energy at the moment. Jacob Harris, Tutu Atwell, and Lance McCutcheon have played a combined 20 snaps on offense in the NFL. Harris was a standout at Rams training camp last year in his rookie season and Atwell and McCutcheon have impressed in spring practices so far this season.
Of course, there are high expectations for Atwell, since he was the team’s first pick in the 2021 draft. The expectations are high not because of sheer potential, but because at 57th overall, Atwell is the third highest draft pick of the McVay era and was roundly seen as a wasted pick that the time. Atwell will need some production in his sophomore campaign just to prove those critics wrong. If he has taken that step it will be immediately observed at Rams training camp.
Harris looks to be recovered from his injury and will likely make an impact this season. While he had a great Rams training camp last year, he wasn’t used much at all during the regular season even when healthy. McVay is looking for him to become a more well-rounded receiver. Unfortunately for Harris, it isn’t just about making amazingly athletic plays. Look for more reps with the first team this year at Rams training camp and not just highlights.
McCutcheon’s rare athletic ability was put on display during OTA and minicamps. If that continues through Rams training camp, the case for not keeping him on the roster into the season will be a tough one to make.
Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek have made their case by being productive enough throughout 2021. Their roles were increased beyond their development because of injuries, which has a big part to do with any perceived struggles. Both continued to practice with the first team in spring practices and will likely do the same at Rams training camp.
Brandon Powell’s case to make the team’s roster is obvious. He is the only good return specialist on the team. If this continues through Rams training camp, he will have to be included as one of the 53. Last season this dilemma was only sorted out because of a series of injuries (and DeSean Jackson requesting a trade) That isn’t exactly the kind of luck the Rams want to have, so some very tough decisions will have to be made through Rams training camp.