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Who will win the LA Rams most important roster battles?

Sean McVay’s five toughest traing camp decisions

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NFL: AUG 21 Preseason - Raiders at Rams Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NFL training camp roster battles serve a two-fold purpose. First, they normally occur to fill an opening, whether it’s a vacancy or weak spot. Second, it serves to prepare and toughen young players and keep veterans from back-sliding into complacency.

Even after winning the 2022 Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Rams will have their fair share of positional scuffles.

The Rams roster building strategy is to stock impact positions with highly compensated stars and then fill the remaining roles with hot motors, high football IQs and versatile, competitive over achievers that are chosen for their fit into the schemes.

As the Rams and their fans await the opening of camp, it’s a good time point out and start to analyze some of those positional roster battles that will support LA’s top tier talent.

Right guard #1 - Logan Bruss vs. Coleman Shelton

Needing to replace two starters, there will be some re-tooling on the Rams offensive line.

Joseph Noteboom is stepping in for Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Sean McVay said he’s making “great strides” and has a “chokehold” on the position. That leaves filling the hole left by Austin Corbett leaving LA in free agency. Although Bruss and Shelton look to have the inside track, the Rams have a slate of candidates that could earn their way into the mix. Bobby Evans, Tremayne Anchrum, and Alaric Jackson are the biggest names, but there will be nine guys vying for play time.

Although Shelton lacks the prototypical mass and length of an NFL interior lineman, he does have the skills that make him a fit for the Rams wide-zone run game. He came out of Washington as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in 2018, bouncing from the San Francisco 49ers to the Arizona Cardinals before landing in LA for the 2019 season. His snaps were modest in his first two years, 23 on offense and 52 on special teams in ‘19 and only 67 special teams plays in 2020. Last season, he played in all 21 games and logged three starts.

Shelton does his best work on the move, he has good get-off, understands how to use angles, and has a strong, compact punch. He’s got short, choppy steps that keep him balanced and allows him to strike well on the move. He’s a technique guy, not a power blocker, but surely after three years in the Rams strength/conditioning program, he’s built his play strength up to serviceable level.

In Bruss, the Rams fans get the nasty-tempered run blocker they have screamed for. He mostly played tackle in college, but got a decent amount of games at right guard and has plenty of experience blocking in a zone system. He measures in at 6’ 5” and 309 lbs. with a stout lower half. He ran a 5.23 forty, a 7.57 3cone, and 4.55 in the shuttle. He added a 31’ vertical and 9’ 4” broad.

Although he has a reputation as being stronger in run blocking than pass blocking, Bruss only gave up one sack in his college career. He stays square, bends his knees and keeps his butt down in pass protection. His wide base will help him anchor against powerful opposing defensive tackles and their bullrush moves. HIs arm length is not extraordinary, (33 1/8) but he has huge hands and when he latches on, he doesn’t shake loose. His fluid, short area movement, aggressive play, and polished technique skills give Bruss a chance to win the starting spot.

Super Bowl Champion Rams begin 2022 Season Photo by David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Right edge #1 - Justin Hollins vs. Terrell Lewis

Von Miller, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Justin Lawler, and Jamir Jones have all moved on, taking 758 defensive snaps with them. Replacing these snaps opposite left edge Leonard Floyd is huge opportunity for Hollins, age 26 and Lewis, age 23.

Hollins won the roster battle last season and was named the starter. He held that role for the Rams first three games before a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him. When he returned after nine weeks, the Rams had added Von Miller to the roster and Hollins was relegated to 20 or less snaps per game.

After a stellar 2019 NFL Combine performance, Hollins was taken in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos. He played in 15 games as a rookie and was eventually released in 2020 final cuts, and then snatched up by the Rams. Standing 6’ 5” and 248 lbs. with 33 1/2” arms and 10 1/2“ hands, Hollins ran a 4.5 forty, 7.06 3cone, and 4.4 shuttle. In the explosion drills, had recorded a 36.5” vertical, 9’ 11” broad and pushed 25 reps on the bench.

With his natural abilities to rush the passer, set the edge and drop into coverage, Hollins has the tools to be an outstanding standup end. If he can play with the required pro consistency and aggression, he could be a real talent.

Lewis is a freakish combination of size and athleticism. His development has been curtailed by a series of injuries that have beset him since his college days at Alabama. Since being drafted at #84 in the third round of the 2020 draft, Lewis has participated in 491 snaps and recorded 27 tackles, five sacks, and seven quarterback hits.

He measures in at 6’ 5” 262 lbs. with 34” arms, 83 1/2” wingspan, and 10” hands. Because of injuries, his pre-draft drill work was limited to a 37” vertical and 10’ 4” broad jump. Stellar numbers for his size.

Watching his college tape mirrors his play as a Ram, explosive bursts of stellar play followed by periods of inactivity due to injury. He needs reps to fully develop, he’s 23 years old, played in only 26 college games, and has been hit-and-miss in practice time with LA. He has tremendous potential and upside and if the Rams medical and training staffs can somehow rehab his knees, he could be dominant.

DENVER BRONCOS VS LOS ANGELES RAMS, NFL Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Defensive tackle #4 - Bobby Brown vs. Michael Hoecht

While the Rams interior line trio is a top NFL unit, finding a rotational player to spell the starters with quality snaps is imperative. Long on size and overall athleticism, but short on experience, Brown and Hoecht seem the likely candidates.

At the Texas A&M Pro Day, Brown measured in at 6’ 4” 321 lbs. with 35 3/4” arms, 10 1/2” hands, and an 85 1/2” wingspan. He clocked a 4.98 forty, 7.65 in the 3cone and 4.63 in the shuttle. His vertical was 33” and broad was 9’ 5”. He was brought along slowly by the Rams in his rookie season, Brown played in 22 defensive snaps and 47 on special teams.

The Rams took Brown in the fourth round at #112. He was reviewed as a stellar run-plugging nose tackle who had the potential to move outside to the 3-technique position. He wins on leverage, using his long arms, a strong punch and keeping his pad level low to create torsion. When his technique is right and he gets his feet set and under his body, he is a load to move. At the pro level, inconsistent technique, particularly in footwork, will get a lineman abused and consistent technique is where Brown needs to show improvement.

In 2020, Hoecht put off a career on Wall Street and signed with LA as an undrafted free agent out of Brown. He was also a top 10 pick in the Canadian Football League draft. When COVID19 put the kibosh his official Pro Day, he put together his own workout, filmed it, and sent it to all 32 teams. At 6’ 4’’ and 295 lbs., he ran a sterling 4.65 forty, backed by a 4.68, 7.05 3cone, and a 4.21 shuttle. He leapt 33.5 in the vertical and a 9’ 2” broad. He added 23 reps on the bench.

Although Brown has the edge in draft pedigree, Hoecht played in every Rams game last season, posted 110 defensive snaps and another 396 on special teams. He combines athleticism with a non-stop motor. In an article on Sports Illustrated, Rams defensive line coach Thomas Henderson said he loves Hoecht’s get-off, size, speed, and athleticism, and implores the Brown math major to “absorb everything that AD does,” because he “actually has the athletic ability to do a lot of the stuff that guys of that caliber can do when you talk about Aaron Donald. But he just has to understand how to apply those tools.”

Super Bowl Champion LA Rams hold mini-camp Photo by David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Tight end #2 - Brycen Hopkins vs. Kendall Blanton

This battle isn’t necessarily set in stone. Both Hopkins and Blanton are better receivers than blockers and while both stepped up in the NFL title run, are not locks. Jacob Harris could be a wild card.and there is no denying his ball skills, the caveat being if he can learn to use his length to lock out and screen off defenders on blocking plays. If any of the youngsters can show some physicality at the point of attack they could quickly move up the depth chart.

Hopkins enters his third year with the Rams after being chosen in 2020 out of Purdue in the fourth round at pick #136. He has the proper size (6’ 4” 245 lbs.), hand size (10 1/8”) , but only proportionate length (32 1/8” arms and 76” wingspan). He checks off the athleticism boxes with a 4.66 forty, 7.25 3cone, and 4.28 shuttle. His explosion numbers were 33.5” vertical, 9’ 8” broad and 21 reps on the bench.

There are no lack of articles wondering when, and if, Hopkins is ready to become a contributing Ram and fans have waited for him to make an impact. Pressed into extensive action in LA’s Super Bowl win because of injuries, he made that impact, producing four catches for 47 yards and three first downs.

The rap on Hopkins coming out of college was that he was not a strong blocker, more of a move/receiving tight end, and there were questions about his hands. Pro Football Focus marked Hopkins as the “Most Fun To Watch” tight end in the 2020 draft, but also lamented the inconsistency with his hands.

...Hopkins is fun to watch because he’s a wild card. He’ll alternate spectacular catches and downfield grabs with shockingly easy drops. If drops weren’t an issue, he’d likely be at the top of the PFF board, but who wants a tight end they can’t rely on? His 22 drops on 152 career catchable are massively concerning.

On his tape, Hopkins seems to have the most struggles with passes below his waist when his palms were up (basket catch). He seems very adept at aggressively attacking the ball at the chest level and above. He transitions very well from the catch to turning upfield to run.

Blanton was signed as a UDFA in 2019 and started each of his three Rams seasons on the practice squad. Coming out of Missouri, he was viewed as a development project with a size/speed upside. He stands at 6’ 6” and 262 lbs with 34” arms and 10 1/2” hands. He clocked a 4.95 forty, 7.37 3cone, and 4.42 shuttle and added a 31” vertical, a 9’ 5” broad and 22 reps on the bench.

Showing an upside for both blocking and receiving, Blanton passed Hopkins on the depth chart last season and was active in the Rams last 16 games. He tallied 148 offensive snaps and 70 on special teams. Although he left the Super Bowl win early with an injury, he had his best performance of the season two weeks earlier in NFC Championship victory over the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, he grabbed all five passes thrown his way for 57 yards.

After playing in a rotation at Mizzou, Blanton may just need development time and reps to learn how to utilize his frame and show out. His tape shows good strong hands, contested catch ability and he can run after the catch. On blocking sets he shows a willingness to mix it up, good feet to navigate towards defenders, and uses his length to lock on.

Rams Bucs in NFL Playoff Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Wide receiver #4 - Bennett Skowronek vs. Tutu Atwell

If the Rams tight ends prospects behind Tyler Higbee cannot step up, fans could see numerous four wide receiver sets. These sets would make the WR4 role much more important, turning it into a role that is fully integrated in the offensive scheme and not just giving the starters a break after a long run.

Already plugged in on special teams units, Skowronek also added 178 offensive snaps in his rookie season. Skow’s modest production of 11 catches for 80 yards was bolstered by seven of those catches going for first downs. Drafted in the seventh round at #249, he measures at 6’ 3” 224 lbs. with 33” arms and 10” hands. He suffered a broken foot in practice for the Senior Bowl and did not participate in Combine or Pro Day drills.

Wins using a hot motor, good hands, and his size/athleticism profile to advantage. His ultra-competitive game demeanor, contested catch skills, and blocking scream for him to transition to move tight end. But don’t be fooled by his guy-who-does-the-dirty-work tag, he has the get-off, short area quickness, and enough long speed to make big plays.

As a rookie, Atwell got a taste of the NFL’s steep learning curve. He was brought along slowly, as the Rams are wont to do, playing sparingly on offense and being worked in as a returner before going out for the season with a shoulder injury in week eight.

At the NFL Combine, Atwell charted at 5’ 9” and 155 lbs. He sped through the speed and short area quickness drills with a 4.39 forty (a stellar 1.49 10 yard split), 6.87 3cone, and 4.09 shuttle. He added a 33” vertical and 9’ 9” broad jump.

During OTAs, Atwell has been singled out by Sean McVay and Matt Stafford as having made strides in early workouts. He has true breakaway speed and his college tape show he’s capable of making all the plays, routine or gamebreaking. He is never going to be a contested catch guy, nor should be, his role is to get into space and utilize his running skills. Until he gets the experience to create his own separation, Sean McVay’s schemes are renowned for creating space for his playmakers to use their skills. Atwell tracks the ball well, has good hands and catches away from his body. And while he is small-framed, he is a willing blocker, and doesn’t shy away from contact on reverses and slip screens.

NFL: OCT 31 Rams at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Any other battles?

Sure. Will David Long or Troy Hill win the starting cornerback spot opposite Jalen Ramsey? Or will Robert Rochell sneak in? There will be a lot of wrangling behind the starters on the offensive and defensive lines. With all the injury concerns at running back, the pecking order needs to watched with interest. And to a lesser extent, two new punters will battle it out for those duties.

Have any important roster battles been missed?