I went to Oxnard on Saturday to watch the LA Rams hold a joint practice with Dallas at the Cowboys’ training camp facilities. You will also be able to see some of the action soon on Hard Knocks, as the HBO show had cameras all over as they cover the Cowboys this year, a place that the Rams have been in twice in the last five years.
With so much attention being paid already to Matthew Stafford and the LA scoring attack this summer, I decided to watch the Rams defense face off against a Dallas offense that will feature some of the NFL’s biggest stars in 2021. That did not include quarterback Dak Prescott, as the team is taking every precaution necessary in his return and he’s dealing with discomfort in his shoulder right now. But it did mean seeing CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Gallup, Tony Pollard against the likes of Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Floyd.
Here is some of what I observed on Saturday:
- It’s difficult to know how much effort each side of the trenches was giving, and it surely was not 100-percent, but Aaron Donald won a couple of his battles during scrimmages. Cowboys guard Connor Williams drew more than one round of applause from a mostly-Dallas fanbase in attendance, but each side was holding back and it wouldn’t be fair to compare what I saw today to a preseason game. This was not an exhibition game. It was a joint practice.
- That being said, Donald and Williams fought only two plays into the scrimmage, drawing in players from both sidelines to help, if needed. It could have been confused for a more serious melee — like the ones the two teams got into back in 2015’s joint practice — but this was not that. It was a large crowd of players, but they cooled off and Sean McVay spoke again to Donald on the sidelines to make sure the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could avoid another training camp fight like that one.
- Despite that, Donald and Williams got into one another skirmish, but it was even more minor than the very minor one that preceded it.
- I thought that given his assignment, Cowboys guard Connor Williams did have a good day. All told, the Dallas offense seemed to be rather effective against the Rams defense. This doesn’t tell me that LA’s defense should be worried. I think it just means that this was a joint practice, but there was one area of the Rams defense that seemed to be a key focal point of attack for backup quarterbacks Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert.
- David Long, Jr. had one of the best defensive plays of the day — maybe the best — on a pass breakup for a throw intended for Cedrick Wilson. However, Long was on the wrong end of almost every big completion by either DiNucci or Gilbert. Time after time, it seemed like a Cowboys player was making a catch and Long was the closest defender in the area. This is Long’s third year in the NFL and the former third round pick has a golden opportunity to finally start and log big minutes with Troy Hill — the player who was wearing #22 prior to him taking it this season — now in Cleveland, but if Saturday was any indication, teams will be directing their attention to anyone other than Jalen Ramsey. If Darious Williams and Long are expected to man the outside, with Ramsey in the star or slot role, then it is imperative that they’re both capable of covering elite receivers because most teams are now bringing at least two talented pass catchers every week. Even without Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have two very good receivers, with Michael Gallup especially looking like a breakout player next season. It seemed like Gallup was making a grab over Long on almost every play on Saturday.
- I’m not sure if it’s really commentary on the Rams run defense or not, but I thought that Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard were both really effective on the ground.
- Troy Reeder had a beautiful tackle for a loss on one running play, however. I’m not sure who is in the lead at linebacker, but I noticed Reeder a few times on Saturday and I didn’t notice many other linebackers.
- Taylor Rapp was definitely playing some linebacker and I am hoping for a huge year from him this season. That could come via versatility.
- I think safety Kareem Orr should consider not pulling up his jersey, so that people can see his number and know who to appreciate. He made a few nice plays and is now starting to stand out as a potential member of this 53.
Heck of a pass breakup in the end zone by #Rams DB Kareem Orr.— DOWNTOWN RAMS [DTR] (@DowntownRams) August 7, 2021
- One of Gallup’s best catches of the day came over Darious Williams. Lamb also made a grab over Williams. I would not say that Williams flashed much either. Ramsey made one big pass breakup on Wilson, was present in run defense, but not thrown at very often. That will be a common theme. One must wonder what kind of presence Robert Rochell will have this season but he is still recovering from minor surgery.
- The cornerback who got the most positive attention on the day was Donte Deayon. The fourth year corner out of Boise State/Hard Knocks star doesn’t have the size of Long and that is apparent on every play, but he was around the ball and he wasn’t getting into bad situations. Can he be a starter? That’s really the only question worth asking because the Rams only really need a starting cornerback right now. The questions around Long won’t go away until we see some preseason games, as this was only a practice.
- I liked what I saw from Greg Gaines and think he’s in line for a big season with two roadblocks gone via free agency. Sebastian Joseph-Day also looked explosive. And I noticed a nice pass rush move via Ogbonnia Okoronkwo at one point.
- During one punt, I noticed Jacob Harris streaking down the field like a lightning bolt as the gunner. Harris could be a deadly special teams asset for Johnny Hekker.
- Someone yelled at CeeDee Lamb to “wash his hands” and he said that they were washed and I don’t know what that was in reference to.
- One of the most professional plays of the day came when Kenny Young tackled Pollard near the sidelines and the two tussled for a few seconds out of bounds. It looked as though Pollard wanted to turn it into a full fledged fight with fists, but Young immediately ran back to his huddle and waited for Pollard’s teammates to hold him back. McVay and Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy were adamant that the teams wouldn’t waste time with practice fights and it seemed like Young was intent on following those rules. He wants to win a roster spot and a starting linebacker position and that’s a good thing.
- That being said, I think Pollard is a future starting running back and the Rams could really use a player like him this season.
- I did happen to notice on the other side of the field, DeSean Jackson catching a long pass from Matthew Stafford. It seems more and more likely that Jackson will have a significant role in the Rams offense.
“One of the things that I really appreciate about DeSean is his willingness to share the experiences that he’s had, things he’s seen,” Kupp said. “He’s one of the greatest deep ball catchers. His stats speak for themselves, what he’s done in terms of running the deep ball.”
- One of the final plays of the scrimmage was a tackle for a loss by Donald. LA is in good hands with their defense.
In good hands, but also some things to work on. Probably the most important right now being what to do at cornerback, however the linebackers also still have a training camp battle to sort out too.