With The First Scrimmage At SoFi Complete, What To Expect In Scrimmage #2
For this very weird NFL season, continuity is king. The teams that have the least amount of disruption to their day-to-day operations will have a distinct advantage. This is precisely why Sean McVay scheduled two scrimmages on the new home turf at SoFi stadium.
If this were a normal year, the Rams would have more training camp and four preseason games to evaluate talent and fine-tune their game plans. But as stated before, this season is weird. Add to that added layer disruption of playing in a brand new building, which means a lot is riding on these scrimmages.
The first scrimmage provided quality feedback. Van Jefferson looked good. Enough so to be bumped up to the first team. Cam Akers didn’t answer any question about the backfield. Lirim Hajrullahu made his case for starting kicker, going four for four from 38, 43, 48, and 50 yards. Also, Aaron Donald is still good at football.
As far as the new digs were concerned, everyone seemed in awe of the $5 billion behemoth. Several players remarked on the turf feeling ‘fast.’ All the good feelings were somewhat dampened by technical issues. Sean McVay said after the scrimmage that there were “a lot of issues with the communication on the coaches’ headsets” and that “the communication thing made it very chaotic.”
Here Is What To Expect In Scrimmage #2
First what not to expect. Sean McVay usually rests his starters in the final preseason game and that will be the case for the second scrimmage. Much of the first teams will not take many reps. Also, don’t expect to gain much knowledge about what the team will look like in the regular season from a play-calling stance. The Rams are doing what they can to maintain some secrecy to that element, despite the attention gained from Hard Knocks.
Without preseason games, this will be the best, and one of the last times, that the players on the “cut bubble” will have to make an impression on the coaching staff. Teams have until 1 p.m. PST on September 4th to announce their 53-man rosters. In the second scrimmage, expect some intense battles for those limited available roster spots. The positions to watch closely will be inside linebacker, safety, running back, and tight end.
At safety and tight end the Rams have great depth. In the latter part of the 2019 season, Sean McVay started to experiment with more 12 personnel plays due to injuries at wide receiver. When both Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett are healthy, 12 personnel is a quality package for the Rams. But last season, when Johnny Mundt came in while Everett was injured, the group was less efficient in 12 personnel. Mundt remains on the roster along with 2020 fourth-round draft pick Brycen Hopkins and Kendall Blanton.
The Rams will have a tough decision on their hands with this position group. LA asks a lot of their tight ends and if McVay continues to integrate more 12 personnel into the game plan there will be even more work. There will be room for, at least, three tight ends and maybe even four, as they have been using Mundt in lieu of a full back.
Safety is another position group to watch given the talent the Rams have, but it will also be interesting to watch how the position is used in Brandon Staley’s defense. Of course, Taylor Rapp and John Johnson will make the cut, but watching Johnson will still be telling.
Johnson has been tapped to replace Eric Weddle as the on the field defensive play-caller. Weddle replaced Cory Littleton, so Johnson has quite the act to follow. The Rams also drafted two safeties; Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller. Both have been regarded by McVay as exceptional during this brief training camp.
That leaves three more safeties on the 80-man roster. Nick Scott, JuJu Hughes, and Jake Gervase. Similarly to the tight ends, the Rams will often use safeties in a hybrid linebacker position, so they too will have more assignments than the traditional usage. That said, keeping more than four safeties is excessive. All three of the remaining will have to make an outsized impact during the second scrimmage to keep their job.
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On the other side, the running backs are undefined and the inside linebacker group feels thin. It was 100% the right call to cut Todd Gurley, but replacing him is proving to be the hard part. The Rams used their first draft pick in an attempt to do just that. As of yet, Cam Akers has a lot to prove.
In 2019 the Rams drafted Darrell Henderson. He also has a lot to prove with an unimpressive rookie year. Malcolm Brown does Malcolm Brown things well, but we all know he isn’t replacing Todd Gurley. That leaves John Kelly and Xavier Jones. In the second scrimmage, expect to see a top to bottom battle for the roster slots.
So far it seems that they are up for grabs and the player that wants it the most will make the cut. The Rams are expected to move to a committee style backfield, but who exactly is in that committee is still very much unclear. Akers remains a favorite to be the future of the Rams backfield, but with a fumble in the first scrimmage improvement will have to back up the hype.
As of now, Henderson will sit out the next scrimmage with a soft tissue injury, but will likely return by week one. His absence will give the other backs a few extra reps in the scrimmage, which will allow others to make the case for a roster spot and may solidify Akers as the RB1.
The linebackers will be another group to watch. While the outside linebackers are looking well-staffed, the inside is an area of concern. They are all inexperienced. Kenny Young is the most experienced among the current rostered LB’s and he has only played a total of 468 snaps over two seasons. For comparison, Cory Littleton played 1,039 snaps in 2019 alone.
Early on, McVay identified this group as a bit of an unknown. They named starters for the sake of practice, but each player has been in heavy rotation throughout and the decisions are far from made. It will be interesting to watch how the inside linebackers are handled in the second scrimmage. The rotations and the snap counts will be indicative of where the coaching staff is in their decision-making process. The cuts they do end up making will also reveal the decisions around which safeties to keep or cut.
The last thing to expect is more technical glitches. They are part and parcel with all new stadiums and last week’s difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of the second scrimmage, SoFi should have hosted three concerts and four football games. A couple of scrimmages can’t replicate that.
Given Sean McVay’s short fuse for BS, be sure that the headset issue will be resolved, but there are hundreds of other things that have yet to be given the stress test that a pro football game demands. Hopefully, this will reveal a few more so that the first game in SoFi goes on without a hitch.