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Rams lose to Chargers in preseason, but gain knowledge on their depth at key positions

Sean McVay comes away with a bunch of information on some important reserves for 2021

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“Jokes are never telling. They’re jokes.”

That’s a line by Jude Law in the first episode of The Young Pope. Some would say that the preseason is a joke, but that’s not quite true because we do know that these games can be telling. But hardly anything that happened on Saturday will be indicative of how the LA Rams will perform this season and by those standards, a 13-6 loss to the LA Chargers is in no way revealing.

We did, however, learn something about how the depth chart and third line of reserves could be shaking out for Sean McVay’s coaching staff.

  • John Wolford is likely entrenched as Matthew Stafford’s backup this season. His three years of experience with McVay and his Week 17 performance against the Arizona Cardinals is a worthy resume for a player who will hold significant responsibilities as Stafford’s right-hand man. The starter-backup QB relationship is an important one and Wolford’s the right right-handed man, man. The Rams probably can’t afford to keep a third quarterback on the roster, so Devlin Hodges and Bryce Perkins are essentially auditioning for another team to give them a chance come September. Saturday’s game did not reveal that either of them would be better options as a backup quarterback than Wolford.
  • Justin Lawler is listed as the backup to Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker and that’s exactly what Justin Lawler looked like on Saturday night. He was the talk of the team on Twitter and there’s little question that players like Terrell Lewis and Chris Garrett are competing to be the last person in at linebacker.

Or in the case of Lewis, not competing often enough. Garrett seemed to have some good moments on Saturday night. LA had nine linebackers last season and when you crunch the numbers, it may be difficult for either of Garrett or Lewis to make the final 53.

  • The fact that Coleman Shelton started at center probably solidifies Brian Allen as the current number one. Though Allen hasn’t played in a game since November of 2019, this wasn’t the type of night to get him back in action. The same would go for the rest of the starters, but the most glaring offensive line talk of the game centered around the apparent decline of Bobby Evans from the presumed leader at right guard to potentially fighting just to make the roster. There was, however, positive talk about Tremayne Anchrum and we’ll see if that plays out in a different rotation of linemen next Saturday night.
  • Jacob Harris played as a receiver against the Chargers, not as a tight end. He also played as a receiver in college, so right now we’ve only ever known Harris as a receiver.
  • To put him in the tight end conversation is premature even though the news hasn’t been glowing when it has come to Brycen Hopkins this year. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The news hasn’t even existed. After playing two offensive snaps as a rookie, Hopkins has rarely been a topic of conversation at training camp and nothing seemed to be going in his favor on Saturday night either. The objective for McVay now seems to be to protect Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt, and to potentially keep an eye on the free agent market in September.
  • McVay did say after the game that Xavier Jones has been a bright spot in camp and Jones may have been one of the few regulars who had significant participation against the Chargers. That’s because Darrell Henderson is the only running back on the roster to have even participated in an offensive play in the NFL, and neither Jones nor Raymond Calais had a chance to play in a preseason game in 2020. The statistics they had this week do not matter, but based on McVay’s comments, it would appear that Jones is in the lead to complement Henderson when the regular season gets here. That’s if the Rams don’t add a running back, and while I do believe McVay is comfortable with Jones, I didn’t feel convinced that he was convinced that LA can start the season with what they have at the position.
  • That’s not to leave out Jake Funk, but I don’t expect McVay to turn to a three-headed running back committee. Even if Funk does make the final roster, it will likely be as a special teamer who also serves a function as running back insurance.
  • I don’t believe there was anybody out there on Saturday night catching passes who will be regularly expected to catch passes in 2021. The team is going to lean on Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, Tyler Higbee, and Van Jefferson before they get to Tutu Atwell and Harris. But Atwell should have been able to shake off some skepticism about his size this week by showing out with speed and bouncing back up quickly after a number of hard hits in the open field. He could also end up as the team’s starting punt returner.
  • Trishton Jackson scored a touchdown and I still don’t know how the numbers will crunch in his favor. Harris seems destined to take a roster spot without having a solid position between tight end and receiver, and Jackson must also deal with J.J. Koski and Ben Skowronek. And that’s not for the number five job, that’s for the number six job, seven if you count Harris.

The Rams next face the Las Vegas Raiders, exactly one week later at 7 PM and again at SoFi Stadium. We may get an opportunity to see a team that more closely resembles the one we’ll see in Week 1, but then again not really. It’s like looking at a picture through three panes of colored, textured glass. By a score of 13-6, we’ve removed one pane of glass.

Two more to go.

Quicker Notes

  • I don’t expect McVay to give the starting inside linebacker job to a rookie this season, but the play of Ernest Jones on Saturday night further emphasizes the optimism about the third round pick’s future.
  • We didn’t hear from Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams, obviously, but also not Donte Deayon, David Long, or Robert Rochell. Also not Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess, or Nick Scott. The play of Brontae Harris, Kareem Orr, Juju Hughes, J.R. Reed on Saturday may not be able to result in a roster spot in Week 1 but you never know.
  • McVay wasn’t concerned about Matt Gay’s miss. It’s unfortunate that MacGinnis missed. That had to be a big moment for him, given there was no preseason last year and these chances are so rare. I hope he gets another.
  • I wouldn’t speculate any change at punter right now.
  • Koski had three catches and presently he’s the biggest mystery on the roster. He seems like the right candidate to make the practice squad and to be one of those options for a gameday activation from the practice squad, should any injuries at receiver arrive.
  • We heard the names of some defensive linemen called out and standing out, but really it will be difficult for any of them other than Bobby Brown, Earnest Brown, and Eric Banks to make the final roster. Even that could be too many because we know that Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, A’Shawn Robinson, and Greg Gaines are in. LA kept six defensive linemen last season. Michael Hoecht, Jonah Williams, George Silvanic, John Daka have big hills to get over.
  • Some of these guys hadn’t played in a game in a long time, yet another reason to cut these performances some slack. The vast majority of work and progress is made during the week.
  • Listen to the Instant Reaction podcast every week for more info.
  • I’m ready for Matthew Stafford.