That’s A Wrap On The Rams Training Camp
An NFL franchise’s offseason is a series of glimpses behind the curtain of the internal machinations of what that franchise’s team is up to. Each phase of the offseason is a preface to the next.
The draft reveals what they want to invest in and what they value. OTA’s show you who and what they are nurturing. Training camp sheds light on the maturation process.
So, after 10 days of training camp and a joint practice with the Dallas Cowboys, what can we know about the Rams? Are they a fully-realized team or still going through the necessary growing pains?
Of course, no team is ever fully formed and static. They contain players all along the spectrum. So to assess the Rams before they head into Saturday’s game with the Chargers, we will have to break it down into a few categories.
There were far too many stories to share about guys who wowed in camp and some sadly that didn’t. But, I wanted to share observations that shed light on players you won’t see much of in the next few weeks, but also guys to watch as the NFL world transitions from practicing to preseason.
The Grown A** Men
The best news coming out of training camp is that the top guys still look like elite NFL superstars. And even better news, the Rams offseason additions of Matthew Stafford and DeSean Jackson qualify for this category. Some of the most electric plays during camp have been when these two connected.
Jackson has injury concerns, but the Rams have great depth at wide receiver. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods showed in camp that they are still a great one-two punch. Having Jackson will also benefit Kupp and Woods. He is still fast and that will result in more room for other receivers. Kupp and Woods will be the largest benefactors of that space. Space they didn’t have last year.
After a pretty stunning camp, it seems like Tyler Higbee is primed to have a career year.
On the other side of the ball, there are two players at the top of their game and it is almost too obvious to say; Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. The note from watching them at training camp is they both want this defense better than last year and that desire starts at the top with Raheem Morris.
During a post-training camp interview, Morris talked about finding each player’s “button,” the thing that motivates the guy. Morris said he hasn’t found Donald’s button. He also said that with Donald, you just have to ask him to go above and beyond and he will find a way to get it done. Morris identified Ramsey as his favorite player to pick on.
Does this mean Ramsey’s button is being teased? If it is, then it’s working. Ramsey worked incredibly hard this season at training camp. He always wants to win and loves when he does. If some ribbing is getting Ramsey to the place, we thank you, Raheem Morris.
Proof of Donald’s drive came during the scrimmage in Oxnard. Donald went up against Connor Williams in a drill. Donald got underneath, but Williams was not about to get beat. He locked on to Donald’s shoulder pads. (This would certainly garner a holding penalty in a game.) Donald tried to shake the grasp, but Williams had a good grip. This is when it turned from a drill to a tussle that turned into a wrestling match resulting in a bench-clearing scrum.
Now, Aaron Donald doesn’t have anything to prove, certainly not in a scrimmage. But this proves that it all matters to Donald, even when it doesn’t. Can Aaron Donald get better? It certainly looks like he thinks so.
Prove It Players
There are two subsets of players in this group. One’s thrust into a starting role and players that looked great in camp, but still have to prove it under the bright lights.
If everything from training camp translates to games, this is an interesting trio. The downside to this is that it’s hard to learn a lot about the running game from training camp.
Henderson is part of both subsets. He is taking over for Cam Akers and he has also wowed at camp. There was a brief injury scare during the final day of camp when Henderson injured his hand. It turned out to be minor, but the fact is he was on a pitch count in an attempt to keep him healthy.
Jones looks to be a jolt of excitement in the backfield. He makes defined cuts, especially in the backfield, and looks fast when changing directions. He and Henderson have also looked good when targeted in the passing game.
Funk looks to prefer running through guys and he is also solid in pass protection. He took reps with special teams as well. This will become more important the closer to August 31, when the team has to cut down to 53 players. The Rams will need at least three backs on the roster. This will give McVay some flexibility if Funk can pull double duty.
It will be interesting to see if McVay plays any of these players in the preseason games (we already know that Henderson will not play).
Taylor Rapp had an impressive rookie campaign only to follow it up with an inconsistent and injury-riddled sophomore season. Well, he has impressed this offseason with some explosive heads-up plays. He called out a missed coverage that was picked up and as a result, Stafford had to throw the ball out of bounds. He also made a great run-stopping play in the box.
It seems like the Rams are figuring out how to use him and this will allow Rapp to excel and carve out a niche for himself on the roster.
Justin Hollins has been one of the standouts of training camp and his rise couldn’t come at a better time. The Rams have been looking for a compliment to Leonard Floyd and Hollins has proven to be a great option rotating with Obo Okoronkwo.
He and Hollins are a great compliment to one another. Okoronkwo can beat with speed and Hollins can beat with length and sheer power.
Hollins was drafted in the fifth round and subsequently released by the Denver Broncos. While in Denver, he moved around playing both inside and outside. The Rams seem to have found the right spot for him.
Another area of concern on the defense was at middle linebacker and Kenny Young has looked like the best one on the field during training camp. He looks to have taken a big leap forward from last season. This could be because he got so much playing time last season. In 2019, after being traded, he didn’t get any starts on the Rams Defense. In 2020, he played in every game. The biggest change in his game has been consistency. During training camp, when he was lined up in the middle, he looked in charge and played like he knew what to do, whereas last season at times he looked a bit lost. He is yet another example of a Rams project player turned starting player.
Deal Or No Deal
This group of players will be the most interesting to watch over the next few weeks. Many of the guys in the groups mentioned above won’t see a single snap in the preseason games. But those games will seal the deal for this group.
If Raheem Morris likes guys who create Make A Difference (MAD) plays then Kareem Orr is on his radar. I first noticed him in the second week of camp during a special team drill in which a player fielded the punt behind five blockers while five tacklers tried to get to the returner. He was always in the right spot. Later in the same practice, he broke up a pass and then picked off the very next throw. And he has made a play like that in nearly every practice I attended. He even broke up two passes in the scrimmage against the Cowboys.
His next challenge will be to continue making those big plays in the preseason. Sometimes aggressive players like him can get burnt or penalized once they are up against live competition.
There are several safeties to watch, as well. There are currently 11 on the roster and the team won’t keep more than six. As of now, it looks like Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess, and Nick Scott. Scott tweaked his knee on the last day of practice but is projected to be back in a month. This means he may be questionable for week one on September 12th.
Of the remaining seven, Juju Hughes was one that garnered a good amount of attention during camp by providing some nice coverage including some stout defense near the endzone. Brontae Harris also had a very solid camp.
There are several receivers that have made their case in training camp. Ben Skowronek had one phenomenal day but wasn’t able to replicate it. Trishton Jackson showed phenomenal consistency and was by far the favorite target for the second-team quarterbacks. J.J. Koski also proved to be a sought-after target. Jeremiah Haydel also made some very impressive plays. He is also a candidate as a return specialist, but the wide receivers room is getting pretty crowded.
That’s a good problem to have and the preseason sort this out. So keep an eye out for who makes an impression