If you know a thing or two about Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher, then you probably know he’s in no hurry to rush his rookies onto the football field. If he doesn’t think they’re ready in September, they’ll watch from the sideline until he deems otherwise.
Last year, it was the Rams’ top pick Todd Gurley - coming off a major knee injury - who sat until Week 4 before getting a touch on Sunday.
Jared Goff, the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, may or may not take the field on Monday night in the team’s season opener. Time will tell, but if Fisher doesn’t think Goff gives the team the best chance to win against the 49ers on September 12, expect to see Case Keenum trotting out on first down.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rookies who look to immediately step in immediately and contribute in a big way. After practice on Sunday, Fisher noted a few youngsters - on offense - who already look comfortable running with the first team. On Pharoh Cooper and Tyler Higbee:
We just plug them in and go. If you watch practice, they’re lining up with the 1s. That should tell you something – they’re lining up and going. They have a good feel. We’re not going to put them in to fail, but they know what to do, they’re going to get their reps.
Cooper could immediately step into a starting spot at slot receiver. And while some may peg Tavon Austin for that role, the Rams have been using him less and less in the slot over the past few years. They’ve found success with lining Austin up outside, allowing him to go into motion and create big plays with sweeps and reverses.
That’s good news for Cooper, who excelled in the slot at South Carolina. And while he doesn’t have the blazing speed that Tavon does, he makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to gain yards that don’t appear to be there. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Cooper added an additional 8 yards after the catch in 2015, and 8.2 added yards after reception over the course of his college career.
Higbee, the team’s second pick in the 2016 Draft (albeit in the 4th round), has a vacant spot waiting for him after the Rams decided to release Jared Cook this offseason. And from the sounds of it, he’s making the most of the opportunity early on in camp.
Rookie #Rams tight end Tyler Higbee was involved quite a bit today. Lots of action on shorter routes. Looks really impressive physically.— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) July 31, 2016
Again, it remains to be seen whether it's Goff or Keenum in Week 1, but it appears more and more likely that whoever gets the start will have the option of a pair of young, play-making targets to throw to.