Three weeks ago yesterday, the Los Angeles Rams opened the gates for training camp for 2018. Yesterday, they closed those gates.
Through 15 practices, two of which the Rams held with the Baltimore Ravens in Charm City, fans were treated to glimpses of what we’ll be seeing when things really matter starting Monday, September 10.
Until then and amid the upcoming three preseason games, here’s the handful of major takeaways from camp:
1.) The Rams got out of camp without any major injuries
The Rams have three players on injured reserve: CB Kevin Peterson who tore his ACL in the Rams’ preseason opener against the Ravens, OLB Garrett Sickels who suffered an undisclosed injury in early August, and OLB Carlos Thompson who also saw his season end without any reporting on his injury back in May. DE/OLB Morgan Fox also tore his ACL in organized team activities but hasn’t officially been placed on IR.
That the only major injury in camp was Sickels, a deep reserve outside linebacker, speaks to a level of fortune the Rams have enjoyed for, at this point, a pretty unbelievable extent. The Rams were the healthiest team in the entire NFL in 2017. And 2016. At this point, as much as we should be thanking Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Reggie Scott, we should be thanking the shichifukujin or whatever manifestation of luck you ascribe to.
That being said, there are three preseason games left. And between DE Dominique Easley, EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, WR Josh Reynolds and TE Johnny Mundt, the Rams are already dealing with a secondary injury list that’s already carrying risk.
That’s a much, much, much better outlook than most teams.
2.) Backup QB
Yes, the preseason opener against the Ravens reinforced it, but yet again in training camp we saw a QB depth chart that is far, far, far too top heavy.
Primary backup QB Sean Mannion, now heading into his fourth NFL season, has done little to suggest the Rams should re-sign him next offseason. QB3 Brandon Allen offers a bit of the “grass is always greener” effect, but there’s little evidence to merit a primary backup spot long-term. And as great as QB Luis Perez’s story is, that’s about as long as shot as you’ll find.
Coming out of Super Bowl LII in which Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles won Super Bowl MVP as a backup forced into the lineup in the absence of QB Carson Wentz, there’s an irony that the team who injured Wentz, the Rams, are without a backup of their own to rely on in a worst-case scenario.
And camp has shown it.
The Rams moved on from three of their starting linebackers from 2017. ILB Alec Ogletree was traded to the New York Giants. EDGE Robert Quinn was traded to the Miami Dolphins. And OLB Connor Barwin hit the free agent market ultimately signing with the Giants as well.
The attrition alone had many fans eager to re-stock the depth chart with premier talents in free agency and/or the 2018 NFL Draft. Instead, the Rams opted to promote from within and make some low-capital investments in the draft to build out a linebacking unit with potential if limited in star power.
Since however and throughout camp, the carousel has continued to spin at the position. Fox was considered an option at one of the OLB spots until his injury. EDGE Matt Longacre was expected to start across from EDGE Samson Ebukam, though he too suffered an injury; he has been dealing with a bicep injury since August 4 leaving the door open for other snaps. EDGE Justin Lawler had some first-unit time in OTAs. And while ILB Ramik Wilson looks like the first option to play alongside ILB Mark Barron in a four-man LB corps, Barron’s own rehabilitation has left tons of snaps for depth.
With rookies starting to show up inside and outside, the competition is legitimately fierce. And confusing. Expect a surprise or two from the final 53-man roster...and perhaps expect a surprise lineup for Week 1.
4.) Starters on trajectory
If the QB depth and linebacking units offered confusion, one major takeaway from camp had to be the strength of the starting lineups on both sides of the ball.
QB Jared Goff looks to be in full command of the offense in his second year with Head Coach Sean McVay. The wide receiving unit, having been completely overhauled a year ago, looks beyond competent with Goff linking up with WR Cooper Kupp with regularity. The starting offensive line looked fine throughout.
For all the linebacking confusion and the continued holdout of DL Aaron Donald, the defensive line duo of Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers backed up by one of the best secondaries in the NFL were routinely impressive.
This of course comes as no surprise. Taking a team that was as successful as the Rams were a year ago and adding proven talents is a recipe for training camp fluency and paper readiness.
But this isn’t a team graded in August.
5.) McVay in control
Perhaps the least reported aspect of the 2018 Los Angeles Rams offseason was the most talked about aspect of their 2017 buildup: the youth and inexperience of their head coach.
We all know the story of 2017. McVay won Head Coach of the Year and rightly so. But his 2018 job will be wildly different than his 2017 job. And to this point, his command of the team has been different.
Health, and time off in camp, has clearly been a huge priority. Joint practices with the Ravens saw conflicts deprioritized. And even this week, we saw the team mimic a halftime break, a savvy albeit unconventional move.
McVay is not a product of a bygone NFL. He’s a harbinger of the next NFL. One that balances safety with skill. Technically proficient but physically punishing nonetheless.
His job being radically different this season, McVay has navigated the last month with a gravitas and confident management rarely seen from 32-year old coaches let alone 32-year old head coaches in the NFL. Of which there remain one.
And yet, he remains in full control. The job hasn’t overwhelmed him. The challenges haven’t. And now set for his biggest challenge yet, managing one of the NFL’s best rosters as the franchise he coaches for inherits the biggest expectations they’ve carried in a decade and a half, he’s gotten through camp with things exactly where he wants them.
Which should surprise no one at this point. And remind just how good he is at this.