Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams have taken a measured approach to their offseason official team activities (OTAs) in preparation for the 2022 training camp. After completing the longest NFL season ever, 21 weeks, and suffering through a spate of late-season injuries that need rehabbing, the defending Super Bowl champs are now taking a break until the team officially announces the opening of camp.
The Rams cut OTAs to eight weeks, down from nine and shut down the traditional mandatory three day mini-camp after two. In a video press conference after that final workout, McVay was pleased with the teams effort and said:
“We wanted to give the guys a 5 1/2-6 week break, let players and coaches get recharged while staying in a good rhythm and routine. I think it’s like anything else, (it’s) they way these guys approach it, they have a great feel and they have ownership. They were all heavily involved with a lot of the evolution of the offense. It’s our job as coaches to do as good a job as we can to create clarity. It’s like anything else, do things the right way (and) you’re going to get better.
As strong as the Rams overall roster is, each positional unit has some issues with depth and must replace some key departures, here is a capsule view of how the units fare as the Rams take break.
While Matthew Stafford has been present for OTA’s, he’s yet to throw a football and won’t until camp starts. He’s rehabbing a throwing-arm elbow injury that occurred back in 2020 while with the Detroit Lions and required an anti-inflammatory injection after the Super Bowl win
“I’ve definitely dealt with injuries, throughout my career, that have, kind of, limited me in certain ways. We do as good a job here as anywhere I’ve ever been at being able to practice and make that practice stress people above the neck, getting the tempo going, the communication...without really tearing peoples bodies down...We’re trying out new stuff... new tempos, new plays, stuff like that. There’s plenty to be gained, it’s just less fun for me when I don’t get to do the one thing I like to do, throw the ball.”
Stafford’s limited action has given much-needed reps to backups John Wolford and Bryce Perkins and they could/should get plenty action in training camp while Stafford works into shape. During the Rams mini-camp, new offensive coordinator (OC) Liam Coen spoke of his backups:
“It’s been actually really cool to see those guys get some reps...(For) John and Bryce, it’s really valuable for those guys to take a ton of reps, because in-season, you just don’t get a lot of work with that first and second unit.”
Matthew Stafford with perfect placement amid pressure and the QB hit to find Super Bowl MVP C. Kupp for the 4th quarter TD pass vs Seattle. Stafford had so many of these great throws in year 1 as a Ram, showing great touch, poise, and confidence in his WRs. Stafford➡️Kupp = pic.twitter.com/FfLjNVxfyx— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) June 1, 2022
The story sounds uncomfortably familiar, injuries are already rearing their ugly head. Cam Akers is back on the field, but Darrell Henderson is working through a recurring soft tissue problem and rookie Kyren Williams is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Jake Funk, Raymond Calais and Xavier Jones all battled injuries last year. New running back coach Ra’Shaad samples gets a baptism by fire.
McVay told reporters he was comfortable with Akers and Henderson, but his final comment on the Rams running back room says it all.
“...you can never have enough depth at that running back spot.”
So much happened in the receivers room. The addition of Allen Robinson, the mega extension of Cooper Kupp, and, of course, there’s always the drama of whether, or not, the Rams will get Odell Beckham under contract. Even with all the stories of the optimism of a Rams signing, it’s still all only speculation.
There was plenty of superlatives tossed around by coaches and players about the skill set and work ethic of veterans Kupp and Robinson as well of good reports about last years second round pick, Tutu Atwell. But one of the most interesting things said was from OC Coen concerning the speed of the Rams receiving core and his thoughts on speed overall.
“... this level’s not really about speed”, Coen said, “it’s about separation. If you can separate at this level against the types of DB’s (defensive backs) we see every week, you’re gonna have a successful career... it’s really not truly about that (gesturing straight line speed),..(it’s) can you play with speed and under control in a certain yardage, because really, the ball’s not going over people’s heads all the time...can (you) win and separate within that 15-20 yard range, which is so difficult to cover.”
A thin unit. Tyler Higbee has been rehabbing after knee surgery and working out on the side, giving the inexperienced players a lot of reps. QB Stafford said all three tight ends looked really good but didn’t elaborate on who it was. Hopefully, for Rams fans, the solid late season performances of Brycen Hopkins and Kendall Blanton were a glimpse of their futures. If not, fans may get large dose of four and even five wide receiver sets.
While Andrew Whitworth has hung up his game jersey, he’s been highly visible and active at OTAs, still working with the younger members of the offensive line. In his stead at left tackle, McVay said that Joseph Noteboom has made “great strides” and taken a “chokehold” on the position.
The Rams expect Rob Havenstein to lead the unit and have been working on continuity during drills. Coleman Shelton is getting reps at right guard along with rookie Logan Bruss.
“ The Champagne problem, if you will, is figuring out that right guard spot, to find the best five guys...that continuity is key to our success...”
“I’m excited to see how that right guard position unfolds. Coleman Shelton is another guy I have tremendous trust in. (I have) a lot of confidence that he can play any one of those interior three spots. Logan Bruss is a guy (that) we like what he did in college and we’ve liked what we’ve seen from him so far, but it is so hard to truly evaluate until your into competitive settings.”
Big Whit spotted at minicamp! pic.twitter.com/rcPFeudBK2— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) June 11, 2022
The Rams coaching staff are clearly happy with the mix of veterans and youngsters battling for roles. With Jalen Ramsey’s participation hit-and-miss in OTAs, Robert Rochell is getting reps at the star position. McVay singled out the play of Terrell Burgess and David Long and the addition of Troy Hill brings coverage skills and a veteran swagger.
LA brought in nine prospects for the defensive backfield and Defensive Coordinator (DC) Raheem Morris likes what he sees in the Rams aspiring cover men.
“...This is the time to get to see those kind of guys. When in shorts. you can really evaluate their movement (and) ball skills...It’s really fun watching these guys compete and get after it...Now, it’s about establishing roles for themselves and us (the coaches)...you don’t have to like your role at the beginning of the season, you have to fulfill it and then your role will grow as the season moves forward.”
Arguably the Rams most important addition of the off season, Bobby Wagner gives LA the three down linebacker that fans have been pining for. To hell with his age, If 170 tackles and three interceptions are the backend of a defensive players career, bring ‘em ALL to LA. All the youngsters, Ernest Jones, Christian Rozeboom, the newly re-acquired Travin Howard, Anthony Hines, and 2022 rookie Jake Hummel will reap the benefits of having an all-time great to school them up.
DC Morris understands how important Wagner’s versatility, durability, and football IQ are and said:
“...He’s really a pleasure to communicate the defense to. The why’s, the what’s, the where’s and the how’s...I could go on and on about him...It is certainly great to add a player who slows the game down for everyone around him...He’s one of those guys that can play very single down...also you want to figure out how to play (him) with Ernest (Jones) a little more. Maybe more nickel, maybe more two backer (sets).”
Interest swirls around who lines up opposite Leonard Floyd. Justin Hollins won the role last season before injuries took him down. Official reports from the Rams have been quiet, so far, about which players are edging ahead the camp battle.
News can’t get any bigger than Aaron Donald’s new contract, but last season’s emergence of Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson has made the Rams defensive line 2022’s number one rated unit in the NFL, at least in the eyes of Pro Football Focus.
Gaines showed he was ready to be an NFL starter after taking over the nose tackle role from injured Sebastian Joseph-Day, who has now moved on to the San Diego Chargers. Robinson gave LA some delayed return on investment with a stellar season, 67 tackles in only 516 snaps, 44 percent of the teams total. By 2022, he should be fully back into shape and ready for 60-65 recent of snaps.
#91 Greg Gaines came up big with a tipped pass on 3rd down in the NFC championship. If completed it could have resulted in a FG or worse to extend the drive. Keeping points off the board! Football is amazing in hindsight because you see the countless plays that needed to happen! pic.twitter.com/vcDmRe7lBd— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) May 5, 2022
What to take away from OTAs
Sean McVay and the Rams coaching staff decided to take a cerebral approach to off season work. Unlike last year, when most all the players participated in OTAs, many veterans decided to pass on the voluntary attendance. Last season was long and grueling, McVay wanted the flexibility to allow veteran players to heal up and allow the coaching staff to get a good, long look at the incoming crop of prospects.
So in the end, McVay let the wounded warriors rehab their wounds and drilled the new recruits on how to do things the Rams way. Now the groups, both players and coaches, get a respite to recharge before putting on their armor and defending their Super Bowl title.