Let’s look at some of the storylines heading into the first padded practice.
1) All New Coordinators
During the offseason, the Rams brought in all-new Coordinators. Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley, and Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego joined the team in February.
At Offensive Coordinator, the Rams brought in O’Connell from the Washington Football Team. While this is Sean McVay’s offense, O’Connell will work with Jarred Goff to get him ready for his fifth season. Goff’s last season with an offensive coordinator was 2017; he threw for more touchdowns than last year, and career highs in touchdown percentage, yards per completion average and career-low in interception percentage.
Staley’s only been in the league for three years as a linebacker coach for the Bears and Broncos. Staley’s advantage is that there is no game footage of what his defense will look like, but will a shortened Training camp be enough time for the defense to learn the new system. With no preseason games this year, the first test will be against a high powered Dallas offense.
The Rams lost one of the best long-distance kickers in Greg Zuerlein during free agency. Zuerlein was why the Rams made it to the Super Bowl in 2019, hitting the game-winning 57-yard field goal in overtime to put them over the Saints. New Special Teams Coordinator Bonamego has a long history with many NFL teams. He is known for his development of punters with the Jaguars and Lions and will have to decide on place-kicker in a shortened training camp. He does bring a stellar kick coverage holding teams to 4.5 yards per punt return attempt.
2) The Backfield Has a Lot to Prove
There is no question of how dominant Todd Gurley was for the Rams over the years. Last season saw a drop in rushing yards, and he still managed over 1000 yards of total offense. This season the Rams will switch to a running back by committee with rookie Cam Akers, second-year Darrell Henderson Jr, and veteran Malcolm Brown.
Is the shortened training camp enough time for Akers to learn the Ram’s offense?
Only time will tell. Henderson and Brown will need to step up more than in previous seasons for the three backs to match Gurley’s production. Expect Brown to start with the majority of touches, and as Akers becomes more comfortable with the offense, the touches to shift to him.
3) Position Battles to Watch
The most turnover on the Ram’s roster is at linebacker. With the loss of Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, and Cory Littleton this offseason, there are many questions over their replacements. The trio combined for 23 sacks, two interceptions, and five fumble recoveries.
The hope might have been for rookie Terrell Lewis to step up to the plate, but with a positive COVID-19 test to start Training Camp, he is away from the team for 10 days per the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Lewis returned to the facility as of Friday, but he is already behind Samson Ebukam and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who are the probable replacements.
Other position battles include the right guard, the possibility of a second tight end, and who fills out the wide receiver core behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
The Rams moved Austin Blythe to center in the offseason. The rest of the line is still intact, but there will be a battle for his old job. Teams have proved that a two-tight end set works well. The Eagles, Patriots, and Ravens all found success using two tight ends. Tyler Higbee will undoubtedly be the number one tight end but expect Gerald Edwards and rookie Brycen Hopkins to rotate in a two-tight end set.
After trading Brandin Cooks to the Texans, there is an opening for that third wide receiver spot.
Josh Reynolds seems to be the favorite, a deep threat in college turned route runner for the Rams. But Van Jefferson, second-round pick via the Cook’s trade, could see an increased role.
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