Takeaways From The Rams Second Week Of Training Camp (So Far)
We are already two weeks into training camp! Where does the time go? It seemed like just yesterday that Les Snead was drafting players from his Covid bunker in his garage. But, alas, time marches on and the second week of camp is nearly in the books.
The good news about this is that real actual football that matters is closer than ever. In fact, this very article will be published right around the time that the Hall of Fame Game will be played. And that game is very nearly something that resembles actual football.
But until then, we do have something. We have actual real football players practicing football, which may be the second-best thing to NFL football.
Training camp occasionally resembles football, but it really can give us a glimpse behind the curtain of what the Rams are planning. So here are some observations from the Rams’ second week of training camp.
The biggest news out of training camp so far was that Matthew Stafford whacked his hand on an offensive lineman’s helmet. And for about 24 hours, it terrified Rams fans. They were having flashbacks to a few months prior when Jared Goff did the exact same thing! They were imagining a ruined season and all those picks wasted.
Well, Stafford is fine. He came back the next day and looked good. Aaron Donald even gave it his seal of approval saying after a brief inspection of the damaged hand, “We cool.” The only lasting effect is the implementation of soft shell helmet pads for the offensive and defensive linemen to try to make sure a Rams quarterback (and more importantly the fans) are never put in that position again.
Other than that brief scare, Stafford has looked stellar during 11-on-11’s. He connected with Robert Woods and Desean Jackson on several big-time throws. He seems to have a particular connection with Cooper Kupp. He also connected with Darrell Henderson out of the backfield several times. A big question heading into this season was how much would they be throwing to running backs. Stafford often had a pass-catching back in Detroit and it seems that he would like to do the same in LA.
Some of Stafford’s biggest throws have come from the pocket, including one to Kupp. Stafford was under pressure and simply stepped up into the pocket and made a beautiful 20-yard pass. Stafford’s pocket presence and awareness were one of the big reasons the Rams traded for him. Another is his ability to roll out in bootleg plays. When he ran these plays over the last few days it became obvious what McVay saw. Stafford glides while he rolls out. There is a fluidity to it all. Even in his 13th training camp, he looks natural as a mobile quarterback.
John Wolford is proving to be one of the better backups in the league, but there is a very clear distinction that there is no quarterback controversy in Rams camp. He has taken all of the second team’s reps and filled in when Stafford went out with the hand injury on the first team. Wolford also demonstrated his gritty side during Monday’s practice. He bounced back from a rough series in which he fumbled a snap and nearly had a pass intercepted by the pass-rushing Obo Okoronkwo. On the next drive, which was a hurry-up sequence, he piloted the offense down the field. The drive resulted in a field goal. Wolford connected with several receivers on the drive including Ben Skowronek, Trishton Jackson, and J.J. Koski.
Bryce Perkins ran the third-team offense in 7 on 7 drills once the first and second string teams left the field. Perkins has a nice touch and plenty of mobility. He was seen after Wednesday’s practice running 20 and 50-yard sprints. Devlin Hodges only participated in warm-ups and rotated in passing drills.
With Cam Akers out for the year, this is the unit with the most questions swirling around it this offseason. The good news is that Darrell Henderson is stepping up in a big way. In both padded practices, he was able to use his burst and shiftiness to break some big plays. Wednesday, he was really the only back that was able to get downfield. He displayed his ability to get outside, but also picked up a significant gain up the middle. He also caught two passes from Stafford taking healthy chunks of the field.
Xavier Jones has shown he can be a back in rotation. He needs to get more experience, but once he does he can make defenses pay. His explosiveness is easy to see, but he can really put his foot in the ground to make tacklers miss too.
Jake Funk has proved (so far) that his two knees are just fine. He hasn’t made any spectacular plays yet, but he doesn’t mind trying to run a guy over. He could be the answer for the Rams in short-yardage situations. With Malcolm Brown gone that is still a need for this offense.
The spectre of durability still looms large. The Rams can’t afford to lose anyone and they have been vocal about Henderson’s pitch count. So the questions heading into the season will likely be there all season long.
The only big news along the offensive front is that Austin Corbett has taken every first-team rep. There was talk from McVay that there was a competition to be had, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Corbett’s snaps have been clean and he has excelled in pass blocking. His run blocking will be something to watch.
There wasn’t much rotation from the veterans and projected starters.
Similar to the offensive line, there isn’t much unknown about this group. Woods and Kupp are still great, Desean Jackson is still fast and Van Jefferson is showing improvement. Jefferson had a big day on Monday in a red zone period. Stafford hit him twice in that drill. The red zone has been an issue for this offense as of the last two seasons. Jefferson could help alleviate that in 2021.
Behind the starters, there is a lot more intrigue. Trishton Jackson and J.J. Koski are playing like jobs are at risk and both have made a good case for the Rams keeping them. But the Rams added a lot of young talent to the wide receiver room. One would expect that Tutu Atwell will make the team, as they used their highest draft pick on him. At the end of the day, it becomes a math problem. The Rams will likely keep seven receivers on the roster and five spots are essentially off the table. Koski and Jackson’s biggest competition is seventh-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, Ben Skowronek, and undrafted free agent Jeremiah Haydel. Skowronek had a monster day on Monday catching several passes from John Wolford, including a big gain down the sideline line with the defensive back draped all over him. Haydel may make the squad for his special team’s ability. He was a very good return man in college and has been in heavy rotation during warm-ups.
Jacob Harris seemed to be on everyone’s list this year as a possible breakout rookie. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from him. He missed several practices due to a core injury. But the good news is that he was back in on Wednesday and he looked back to 100%. He participated in a very athletic drill that simulated laying out to block a punt. He also had a big day in 11-on-11’s. He stress tested his core on an impressive red zone touchdown catch. He had to contort his body in mid-air to haul in the pass.
The other hyped tight end has had a suspiciously quiet week. Brycen Hopkins was being talked up as a possible starter but has mostly been used as a blocking tight end. Of course, that has its place, but it wasn’t what was expected from the preseason talk.
Another thing that has been absent is the tight end as full-back plays they ran with Gerald Everett last season. Perhaps they are moving on from that or could that be Hopkins’ new role?
The big revelation along the defensive front has been Justin Hollins. He has risen to the top under Raheem Morris and he couldn’t have done so at a better time. The Rams are desperate for guys that can get into the backfield. This was never more evident than when Aaron Donald went down in last season’s playoff game. According to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, he was the only defender on Wednesday that was able to get to the puck that represents a sack.
They are being very safe with Terrell Lewis in camp. This isn’t something you want to hear about a pass-rusher. It will require further observation, but as of right now it is starting to feel like he will never be the impact player the Rams drafted him to be. He rested Tuesday and Wednesday.
Earnest Brown has been in light rotation, but not having much of an impact as of yet.
The standout linebackers have been Kenny Young and rookie Ernest Jones. They both have made what Raheem Morris may refer to as a MAD plays, or a Make A Difference play. Jones broke up two passes to Tyler Higbee on Tuesday. Kenny Young also broke up a pass the day before.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Rams second week of training camp is that Jalen Ramsey is hyper-competitive. Now, this might be the most obvious statement ever made. But, it really doesn’t come into full view until you watch him compete against his own teammates. He loves denying receivers the ball. He gets so hyped when he is able to tip a ball or even push a receiver to the limit resulting in a dropped pass. And of course, he loves intercepting the ball. He even will keep punching at balls that have been caught or swatting at runners long after the play is over. Raheem Morris has discovered Ramsey’s “button” to push. He has taken to teasing and ribbing Ramsey. It seems to be working. Ramsey is having another great camp.
At safety, there have been standout performances. Taylor Rapp has come up with some big hits and called out a missed coverage. The defense adjusted and Stafford was forced to throw the ball out of bounds. He will likely be used to clog up the box. Terrell Burgess will come in to help lockdown in pass coverage.
Nick Scott has also made some splash plays. He broke up a Stafford pass in the two-minute drill and also picked him off. David Long Jr. has had a solid camp on the outside, but without those defining plays.
The little-known Kareem Orr is making a good case for a roster spot. On Monday he broke up a pass from John Wolford then picked him off on the very next pass. He also always seemed to be in the right position when he was participating in special team drills.
Long Snapper Watch
Matt Orzech looks like he will be the long snapper the Rams will move forward with. On Wednesday the special teams ran about a dozen simulated punts. Orzech not only snapped to Johnny Hekker, but all of his snaps were on target. Steven Wirtle tended to be low with his snaps.
There have been a handful of rookies that are missing a good chunk of time. This time is critical to their development and the Rams, in some cases, desperately need their help. Tutu Atwell, Robert Rochell, Bobby Brown and Jacob Harris have all missed time. It will be interesting to see how McVay uses them in the preseason. They could see a good chunk of playing time in those games to hammer out any last details.