The Los Angeles Rams will battle for LA bragging rights Saturday evening at 7 p.m. pacific time against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first of three preseason contests. The Rams concluded training camp this week, but reports indicate the team looks promising ahead of the upcoming season.
Head Coach Sean McVay indicated about 35 players will not participate in the Chargers game, according to Lindsey Thiry of ESPN. After the 2020 preseason was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, this will be the first NFL action for many young players on LA’s roster.
Sean McVay says about 35 players will not play in Saturday’s preseason game.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 12, 2021
Though LA’s starters and other notable names will not be on the field Saturday, this will still be an opportunity to gather insight on specific players and depth at certain positions. Below are 3 positions or players on each side of the ball to keep an eye on this weekend.
Offensive Positions/Players to Watch
At this moment it seems the Rams’ plan to replace the injured Cam Akers will be Darrell Henderson in a lead role but complemented by a rotation of the younger reserve runners: Xavier Jones, Jake Funk, and Raymond Calais. Training camp reports suggest that Jones and Funk have been working with the first team - Jones presenting a more sturdy frame and a well-rounded skillset with Funk seemingly providing capabilities as a pass catcher. Calais may not have much of a role outside of special teams, but he could receive ample playing time during the three exhibition contests.
Currently there is little separation between Jones and Funk, but over the course of the preseason a favorite may emerge as the primary backup to Henderson.
Sean McVay said they're still evaluating the run game behind Darrell Henderson Jr. However:— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) August 10, 2021
"I think both X (Xavier Jones) and (Jake) Funk have done a really nice job. If they continue on this trajectory, they're going to be a part of our plans in the running back room."
Depth at Wide Receiver
Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and DeSean Jackson are all but certain not to play against the Chargers. It’s also likely that second-year receiver Van Jefferson will be joining them on the sidelines. Who will step up in place of the veterans?
Fans will see rookie second rounder Tutu Atwell in his first action as a Ram, though his usage may be hindered by a simplified preseason playbook. Young receivers Trishton Jackson and Ben Skowronek stood out at times during training camp. Skowronek is one of LA’s larger pass catchers and could display a skillset, in the red zone for example, that the starters do not possess.
I don’t know how many WRs the Rams will want to keep this fall, but I’ll say this: Trishton Jackson has really been taking advantage of his opportunity these last two days. He is getting more reps w Atwell on COVID/reserve.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) July 30, 2021
Outside of the four starting receivers, and barring injury, there is likely a minimal amount of playing time up for grabs once the regular season begins. Receivers that want to make the final 53 roster will need to prove themselves capable on special teams as well.
It is unknown who will take reps at kick or punt returner, though Atwell may be able to prove capable and take ahold of this role moving forward.
Who emerges at receiver for the Rams during the preseason?
This poll is closed
Jacob Harris, TE
The Rams selected Jacob Harris in the 4th round of the most recent NFL draft. Harris is listed at 6-5’, 211-lbs and is a high-end athlete relative to prospects at both the receiver and tight-end positions. While he is not expected to be used in a similar role to starter Tyler Higbee, who is one of the more well-rounded tight-ends in terms of run-blocking and receiving, the rookie has made spectacular receptions during offseason activities and training camp.
.@johnwolford_9 ➡️ @JacobHarris87 for six! #RamsCamp pic.twitter.com/45571shNpP— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 5, 2021
Defensive Positions/Players to Watch
Ernest Jones, ILB
Ernest Jones, a rookie third round draft selection, represents one of the Rams’ more premium investments in the inside linebacker position in recent memory. While generally considered a more traditional run-stopping linebacker, Jones impressed during training camp by making plays in the passing game. On a near daily basis, the rookie was creating pass break-ups or recording interceptions. If this level of production continues into the preseason, Jones may push for playing time over the course of the regular season.
Robert Rochell, CB
Robert Rochell suffered a wrist injury during training camp, but was able to return to practice this week. Similar to Harris, Rochell is considered a high-end athlete but a raw, developmental football player. While the rookie will likely not be facing starting level talent in the preseason, the competition will still be a substantial step up from playing college football at Central Arkansas. The manner in which Rochell responds to the improved talent will reveal whether or not he is ready for game action.
Safeties Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess, and Nick Scott are not expected to appear during the preseason. The reserves at this position will also be important special teams contributors, as they present a blend of both size and athleticism.
Training camp did not seem to identify a clear stand out behind the first four key players, and it will be interesting to see who emerges out of Troy Warner, JR Reed, Juju Hughes, Paris Ford, and Jake Gervase.
Reed, Hughes, and Gervase return this season from on the back-end of the LA roster or practice squad. Warner has NFL blood lines working in his favor, as his brother is the star middle linebacker on the division rival San Francisco 49ers, Fred Warner.