On Wednesday, I wrote about nine things we learned about the LA Rams this year based on unknowns we had going into the offseason, training camp, and right before final cuts. Questions such as, “Who will start at center?” and “Which linebackers will make the cut?”
Now, it’s time to look at some of those unanswered questions that will continue to linger into the season.
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Sean McVay + Matthew Stafford = ???
I just can’t wait. This is what we’ve all been waiting for over the last eight months and now we are 10 days away from Stafford’s debut with the Rams after 12 years with the Detroit Lions.
I fully believe in Matthew Stafford as a player who has and will continue to fill every reasonable duty of a “franchise quarterback”; excluding rookies and unproven players who are expected to become franchise players, there are many only 12 or 13 active QBs in the NFL who I think qualify for that designation, and now LA not only has one of those players — they have an offensive play designer and head coach who should be perfect for a franchise quarterback.
Even more important than that, Stafford should also receive upgrades to personnel around him, but especially at wide receiver as compared to his last few years with the Lions.
I’m expecting big things from McVay and Stafford in 2021, bigger than what most others in the media are touting as the near-term future for the Rams, and I believe Stafford will experience a second chance to be the NFL’s most-talked about “new” QB.
Will he prove me correct?
How will McVay divide up running back snaps?
Not a question I would have had prior to the Cam Akers injury, but now the running back room is massively different than what could have been predicted in April.
Last season, McVay split up duties between Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, and Akers, depending on who was healthy or active or the hot hand that week. Eventually, he just turned everything over to Akers.
Henderson has had his chances to close off talk of “competition” or “committee” in the past but McVay has consistently turned to some other running back in those cases. The latest move was to trade for Sony Michel, a player who is capable of more than just complementing Henderson, and one who I could see Los Angeles using for 50-60 snaps per game.
(That’s basically the whole game.)
The wild card here is Jake Funk and since McVay only kept three running backs on his initial roster, that at least puts him in line for some “Malcolm Brown” snaps, and by the end of the year, who knows who could be the lead back for the Rams?
Who will get more opportunities between Van Jefferson and DeSean Jackson?
Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have always been evenly targeted — as even as you could reasonable imagine — during the last four years with the LA Rams, so even though there is a new quarterback, I wouldn’t expect a change there. Both should be the most-targeted players, and then honestly Tyler Higbee might even grow into being target number three; Stafford certainly developed an affinity for the tight end position while working with T.J. Hockenson over the last two years.
But when the Rams signed Jackson to a one-year contract, it was surprising not only because of his age and injury history, but due to the presence of Jefferson on the roster, just one year after being a second round pick.
Jefferson saw his playing time evaporate early last season, only to return for many more snaps in Week 17 and the divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers. In both cases, Jefferson seemed a safety valve option for John Wolford or injured Jared Goff, and he seems to be a player who McVay is developing trust with.
We already know that he’s got a lot of admiration for Jackson, a receiver who he worked with for three years in Washington as offensive coordinator.
Both receivers figure to play a part in the offense this season and at 34, we can’t expect Jackson to necessarily be ready for a full 17-game season and all kinds of snaps. LA will divide that around behind Kupp and Woods, but where will Stafford direct most of his attention past them?
Offensive line speed round:
How will Andrew Whitworth hold up at 40?
He turns 40 in December and is the second-oldest active player in the NFL. But if you just look at Tom Brady’s age, then actually Whitworth isn’t old at all.
Did Brian Allen really get that much better?
Nobody outside of the team seems to know!
Is depth an issue?
It’s always going to be an issue, for all 32 teams, all the time. Ask any writer for any team and they’ll tell you, “Fans are concerned about the offensive line.”
Will Joe Noteboom be in LA’s long-term plans?
Noteboom is a free agent in 2022.
With A’Shawn Robinson probable to miss multiple games this year, will Jonah Williams or Michael Hoecht prove to be a diamond in the rough?
Sometimes I forget that Williams and Hoecht were only added to the team last year, both as undrafted free agents. This is why it can be so important to make the practice squad, because as long as you’re hanging around, you’re known.
Williams was a four-year starter at defensive end for Weber State, winning Big Sky Defensive MVP honors as a senior in 2019, as well as making the All-America team for that level of college football (I never know what to write...FCS? Division-II? All I know is it’s not the SEC, but that doesn’t mean better players can’t come out of Weber State sometimes), finishing his career with 15 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss.
Let’s just say that if you went to Weber State at any point, you probably think that Jonah Williams is one of the greatest players of all-time...and who knows? His career has only just begun.
At a private pro day workout last year, the 6’5, 275 lbs Williams ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, had a 35” vertical leap, and did 30 reps on the bench. That is a very fast big man.
Hoecht played at Brown (don’t even get me started on division) and he made a name for himself during the preseason this year. Here’s what Hoecht’s college coach had to say back in March about his chances of making the team:
“He’s only scratching the surface,” said Brown football coach James Perry ’00. “Some of his best qualities will start to show up at these practices, at these workouts. As they see him work and how great a practicer he is, he’s gonna make that team.”
“The Great Practicer” did make the team, just two years after recording 4.5 sacks as a senior and team captain at Brown. Hoecht was seen as a true team leader and he’s reportedly even faster than Williams: 4.65 in the 40-yard dash.
Hoecht was listed at 290 at the time, but the team website currently lists him at 310.
How will they respond to their first chances to play in real game snaps during the season? With Robinson’s concerning injury ailments over the last year, we will probably find out.
How many combined sacks for Terrell Lewis, Chris Garrett, and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo?
I know that expectations are especially high for Garrett, but there would be no shame in it if the seventh round rookie barely saw the field during his first year as a pro. I personally find no gratification in putting those kind of expectations on first-year players, but especially when they weren’t drafted with the intention to have them fill a key role immediately.
Maybe sometimes in the first round, you get those expectations, but not when you only fell a few spots away from going undrafted.
However, LA’s roster doesn’t currently have many roadblocks between Garrett and defensive snaps at outside linebacker.
Leonard Floyd and Justin Hollins will play most of the game, but the depth is currently: Okoronkwo (injured), Lewis (often injured), and Garrett.
Obo, a fifth round pick in 2018, has recorded 2.5 sacks over 20 games in his career. He didn’t play in 2018, and he appeared in 10 games over the last two years.
Lewis appeared in eight games as a rookie, recording two sacks.
We know that sacks will come from Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, but is there going to be a third player to step up in that role? Last season, Morgan Fox ranked third on the team with six sacks, followed by Michael Brockers with five, then Samson Ebukam with 4.5. There was also one game where Troy Reeder had three sacks.
Will Okoronkwo or Lewis finally get healthy for a whole season or is this going to be a Chris Garrett show earlier than expected?
Does Taylor Rapp grab a hold of the safety position long-term?
This is Rapp’s third opportunity to start and to prove he won’t be a liability in coverage. McVay has Terrell Burgess, Nick Scott, J.R. Reed, and Juju Hughes on the 53-man roster in case he doesn’t.
Is David Long, Jr. the answer at cornerback?
Little is known about Long, now going into year three, but he’s about to see a lot of playing time and keep in mind that Troy Hill played more snaps last season than Jalen Ramsey. There just aren’t many other options: Robert Rochell is the only other cornerback on the roster, other than Ramsey and Darious Williams.
Who is Matt Orzech?
Actually, we have an answer to that one: He’s the longsnapper now.
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Listen to a new episode of Pod-TST, in which I react to the 53-man roster and practice squad. It’s a short episode!
What are your biggest unanswered questions for the 2021 LA Rams?