The Los Angeles Rams kick off their preseason schedule on the road when they face the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night. Planning on resting majority of the starters and established veterans, there’ll be lots of young and unfamiliar faces battling for spots on the 53-man roster. Let’s have a look at some names to look out for:
QB Blake Bortles
Starting QB Jared Goff shouldn’t even be allowed on the field. Frankly, he should be tucked away safely in the locker room. His backup in Blake Bortles should get extended run though, even if he is a veteran with plenty of NFL starting experience. The Rams will need to rely on Bortles in case of an emergency this season, making it ideal to get him up to speed in the offense. Plus, wouldn’t it be fun to see if Head Coach Sean McVay can execute this reclamation project?
RB Darrell Henderson
Hendo is someone I’ll be very focused on. He’ll likely receive a lot of playing time as starting running back Todd Gurley won’t see the field, and veteran Malcolm Brown should play at most a series (if at all). That leaves the trio of John Kelly, Hendo, and Justin Davis vying for snaps - with Hendo falling somewhere in between the other two. It could start off slow as the backup offensive line and Hendo likely don’t have much chemistry, though we’ve seen both Kelly and Davis impress in past preseasons and that should have all Rams fans excited to see the speedy and explosive #27 in action for the first time.
There’s plenty of guys to focus on when talking about the OL, but none will be keyed in on more than starting LG Joe Noteboom and C Brian Allen. Majority of the starters wont play, but these two should get at least a quarter of play, simply because of their inexperience. Both had moments of impressive play in the 2018 preseason. Watching what kind of progress they’ve made after spending an offseason on the starting offensive line unit will be incredibly interesting. Backup offensive lineman Jamil Demby (swing tackle) and rookies Bobby Evans and David Edwards are vital to the depth of the offensive line, making them a trio worth focusing on.
WR JoJo Natson
The diminutive jitterbug has strung together some impressive practices — particularly against the Los Angeles Chargers — at receiver, while also holding down the starting returner spots. Natson is a fun watch simply because of his speed and open-field explosiveness. Dare I say, Tavon Austin has returned?
Nose tackle battle
The nose tackle battle will revolve around second-year player Sebastian Joseph-Day (who has the first crack at a starting spot) and rookie fourth-round pick Greg Gaines. SJD received pretty much no playing time during 2018, making him an intriguing — and totally unknown — option as it pertains to this season. Gaines is a darling among fans, though he’ll need to earn a starting spot in the preseason. The positive for big Greg Gaines? Well, guys who excel as run stoppers generally don’t have a chance to impress in practice, so it’s his time to shine.
Inside linebacker battle
The inside linebacker spot is the last position that’s truly up in the air in terms of a starting spot being available. It’s believed that highly-regarded Micah Kiser will have the first chance to secure a starting spot, though the Rams have rotated Kiser and Bryce Hager in with the first-team defense, proving that they’re open to a true competition. It’d be great to see Kiser grab the spot by the horns (no pun intended), simply because of his ability to provide what the Rams needed in 2018: a physical run-stopping presence in the middle of the defense.
Rookie defensive backs
The starting five defensive backs are firmly entrenched, which is why rookies S Taylor Rapp and CB David Long should get more than enough playing time in their first NFL game. Rapp should have a solid role this season as a money backer, a position that came into existence only in the new era of the “passing league”. The performance of Long is also important because both starting cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib were hurt in 2018, giving backups Sam Shields and Troy Hill plenty of playing time. Some added depth at cornerback would be a huge relief for the Rams’ secondary.