Preseason ends for the Los Angeles Rams today with an anti-climatic road game game against the Cincinnati Bengals. With both teams planning to sit their starters and key reserves, calmer heads should prevail and fans should not expect the fireworks that a pair of mid-week joint practices provided. Those scrimmages were marred by several skirmishes and devolved into a hemet-swinging free-for-all.
A furious McVay jumped into the scrum that ended practice. “I don’t know what I was, I just see guys swinging and some guys have helmets on, some don’t, you just never know what can occur. My biggest concern is unnecessary injuries …” (added that he didn’t think anyone got hurt)— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 25, 2022
There is much more to this last game than the possibility of fisticuffs. The Rams must make their final personnel decisions and trim the roster down to 53 by Tuesday August 30 at 4 p.m. EST. Head coach Sean McVay and General Manager Les Snead must adjudicate which players will provide the most value to the team and fans will get their last chance to root home that camp crush.
Back in early July, I passed a little judgement of my own, projecting the Rams opening roster before training camp began. With the official cut down date looming, it’s time to bring that blog full circle and take my medicine on the bad takes. Below are my original projections and a few notes on how the positional units are shaking out. Give us your takes on the opening roster in the comments section.
In: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford
Out: Bryce Perkins
Although I think LA makes the conservative choice, I would not mind ending up being wrong here. Hard to say if Wolford’s thumbnail is enough to warrant a Reserve/PUP designation, but it would give the Rams up to six weeks to decide his future— if there is a decision to be made. It could be that Wolford is in and the relatively minor injury is just a red herring and a reason not to play in the final preseason game.
Admittedly, I am an unabashed fan of Perkins ability to make plays with his escapability. and another point— I would simply love to see a mobile QB in McVay’s offense. With the Rams mid/deep passing routes paired Perkins playmaking skills, there would be wide swathes of open field to exploit. Opposing linebackers would have to play it straight, tempering their drops into coverage, and pass rushers wouldn’t be able to just pin their ears back, they would have to read and react to his movements.
Rams head coach Sean McVay said QB John Wolford hurt the fingernail on his throwing thumb in yesterday’s joint practice with Bengals. Made it “weird” for Wolford to grip the ball. Wolford’s status Saturday’s preseason game TBD.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) August 25, 2022
Running back (4)
In: Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, Jake Funk, and Kyren Williams
Out: Raymond Calais, Xavier Jones, Asim Rose, Trey Ragas
This room seems pretty set, but with the injury backgrounds of this unit, being on the practice squad is not a year of being scout team fodder and bag holding. There is a solid chance of eventually seeing time on the active roster, particularly if the Rams don’t pick up another team’s castoff or an older retread.
Of the practice squad candidates, Calais is smaller back, but is fast and can return kicks, Rose has good size and seems adept at all phases of the position, and Ragas is another big back, more of a downhill runner, and probably better suited to a power/gap scheme.
Wide receiver (5)
In: Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, and Bennett Skowronek
Out: Lance McCutcheon, Brandon Powell, JJ Koski Landen Akers, Austin Trammel, and Warren Jackson
I was wrong on two fronts. First, I thought the Rams would only keep five wide outs with Jacob Harris being used as a hybrid TE/WR. Second, my argument that Powell wouldn’t offer enough snaps to be of value was way off. It speaks to the overall depth of the Rams roster that they can keep a player who is only on the field for 50-60 snaps a season.
The top five will be potent, whether-or-not Van Jefferson is ready for week one. With this group Matthew Stafford could top his season highs in attempts (727), completions (435), and yards (5038).
The only real news is the ascension of Lance McCutcheon. He has really shown out in preseason games and recent Rams roster moves point to him finding a place on the roster. Putting him on the roster is a win-win. The Rams don’t have to risk another team snatching him off waivers and with seven players sitting out on the regular season’s weekly active roster list, McCutcheon can enjoy a redshirt year and continue to learn the pro game.
Tight end (4)
In: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton, Jacob Harris
Out: Kyle Markway, Roger Carter, Jamal Pettigrew, and Jared Pinkney
Obviously, Blanton didn’t make it and has moved on and I don’t believe the Rams will replace his roster spot with a true tight end. Hopkins has always had the potential and with a couple of years to learn the tricks of the trade, is ready to add value.
As for TE#3, the Rams have enough big wide receivers to cover the blocking responsibilities. Harris and Skowronek are nearly as big as today’s NFL prototypical tight ends. Kupp, Robinson, and McCutcheon (if he makes it) all have good size and in McVay’s system, must at the very least, be a willing blocker.
Yes, the unit lacks overall size and would seem to point at weakness when the Rams TE’s are blocking from an inline formations. However, the Rams are not a power run game team and on many plays, the TE’s are in motion and asked to wham block on the edges. Just locking up with defenders and sustaining a screen off can allow backs to scoot by. Also, according to Warren Sharp Football Analysis, LA ran 27% of their 2021 plays with four wide receivers and that number could easily soar this season. If you’ve got fast horses, let them run.
Offensive line (9)
In: Joseph Noteboom, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton, Rob Havenstein, Logan Bruss, Alaric Jackson, Bobby Evans, and Jack Snyder
Out: Jeremiah Kolone, Chandler Brewer, AJ Arcuri, Max Pircher, and Adrian Ealy
Swung and missed on the line projection. The injury to Bruss opens an extra spot and it is still really wide open. Jackson, at first blush, doesn’t seem to be in shape and hasn’t shown a lot of improvement over last year. That said, he is likely in. Evans is the same story, but he’s had three seasons to improve. After seeing his game, Snyder certainly needs a year on the practice squad to work on play strength.
With only the starting five a sure thing, the Rams may decide that eight lineman is enough. Anchrum, Kolone and Brewer have shown the best in the two preseason games. Anchrum should be the first guy off the bench. Kolone has looked solid after a full-time move to center, but do the Rams need three centers? Brewer started this week slightly nicked up, hopefully it was minor and he gets a shot. Arcuri has been gaining some momentum, but would best served with a year on the practice squad.
Special teams (3)
In: Matt Gay, Riley Dixon, Matt Orzech
Out: Cameron Dicker
Dicker’s ability to both punt and placekick made him a fun and interesting prospect, but Gay has been a revelation since coming to LA and his career plane is on the rise. Dixon has solid experience as a holder as well as punter. Orzech has made us forget long-time snapper Jake McQuaide, at least in as much as fans think about long snappers.
Defensive line (6)
In: Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Hoecht, Bobby Brown, and Jonah Williams
Out: Marquise Copeland, Earnest Brown, Keir Thomas, Elijah Garcia, and TJ Carter
While the Aaron Donald throwdown is sucking up all the air around the interior unit, there are some interesting happenings in how the unit is shaking itself out. Nothing new on the starting front, but there is shuffling in the rotation.
Because of his PED transgression, after the the Rams final preseason game this Saturday, BBrown will not be allowed access to Rams facilities and personnel for six games (mid-October). HIs absence has opened a roster spot and a chance for a bubble player, not necessarily a down lineman, to garner a role.
Copeland has not played in preseason games and that gives him key reserve status. Hoecht and Williams have both shown well and both are athletic enough to offer value on special teams. EBrown has shown improvement in his play strength and size since his rookie year, but is most likely headed back to the practice squad.
Keir Thomas moved out to the edge and has been solid, a year on the practice squad would certainly benefit him, but a solid final preseason game might make it difficult to stash him on the PS. Thomas could possibly be one of those players who gains from BBrown’s suspension. Since he is kind of a tweener size-wise, it will be interesting going forward in his career if he leans out his body to permanently become an edge player or bulks to make his bones on the interior.
Jonah Williams with a lethal spin move for the sack and forced fumble. Aaron Donald recently gave a shoutout to Williams for his efforts and it appears to hold some weight! He also had a number of run stops too last night pic.twitter.com/qzzx43cJza— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) August 20, 2022
In: Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, Chris Garrett, and Daniel Hardy
Out: Benton Whitley and Brayden Thomas
The bad news is fan favorite Hardy will start the season with an injury designation. This will put his return status up in the air. The good news is that another fan favorite Garrett returned to practice this week and should be ready for week one.
Whitley has shown an ability to get some push as well as the giddy up to get around the edge. Keir Thomas moved out to the edge and looks like he could be a jack-of-all-trades lineman. Both played from a three point stance as well as standing and could use a year of seasoning on the practice squad.
But somebody has to be E#4. Garrett won a roster spot last season and should be the dark horse, but if that injury lingers, the undrafted rookies all have a chance.
Off ball linebacker (5)
In: Bobby Wagner, Ernest Jones, Travin Howard,and Jake Hummel
Out: Christian Rozeboom and Anthony Hines
Howard will start the season on an injury designation, opening a roster spot. What happens to his status when he returns is unknown, because while he has flashed when he’s been on the field, he has had a litany of injuries reducing his play time. There might not many reps to be had. In Wagner’s 10 year career, he has gobbled up 95% of his teams defensive snaps. Jones fought through some injuries and the Rams tendency to redshirt rookies and still got 43% of snaps.
Rozeboom hasn’t played in preseason games and figures to be locked in, his specialty is special teams. I liked Hummel to make the 53 because of his special teams ability, he still may. Hines play has been aggressive on defense, he charges through gaps and into plays with wild abandon. But he needs to learn to break down and get under control to wrap up on tackles. He’s been good on special teams and is a fine practice squad candidate
In: Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, Terrell Burgess, and Russ Yeast
Out: Jake Gervase, Jairon McVay, Daniel Isom, and Quentin Lake
Yeast looks solid on special teams, it’s a tossup between him and Derion Kendrick. Gervase made the full-time move to off ball line backer and has had a fine preseason, he has called the defense and gobbled up tackles. Lake is still injured and could end up being on injury designation, depending how serious it is. I was really wrong on Isom, thought he would be an early cut after watching his college work. He has tackled well and comes up strong in run support, he’s still a long shot, but it’s good to see him making a nice showing.
In: Jalen Ramsey, David Long, Troy Hill, Robert Rochell, and Decobie Durant
Out: Derion Kendrick, Tyler Hall, Grant Haley, Duron Lowe, TJ Carter, and Caesar Dancy-Williams
Kendrick could sneak in, his battle is most likely with Yeast, not fellow cornerbacks. He hasn’t really stood out on special teams, while I constantly see #43 (Yeast) near the play. It may really depend on which player the Rams think would clear waivers. Lowe looks like a nice candidate for the practice squad. The other guys are on the outside looking in, no room in a deep unit.
Any big surprises?
While Lance McCutcheon has looked like a veteran on the field, if he makes it, it will be a surprise event. I don’t recall any roster projections that included his name. There could be some mild surprises on the offensive line. Behind the starters, only Anchrum looks like a sure bet. The last two or three spots are up for grabs. If Chris Garrett is not up to speed, edge could provide an eye-opener.
The biggest surprise is the effect injuries will have on the opening roster. Currently, the Rams could have up to five players with some kind of injury designation, to go along with BBrown’s suspension. The season opening fortunes of Van Jefferson, Daniel Hardy, Travin Howard, and possibly John Wolford will weigh heavily on the roster decisions.. Not all are starters to be sure, but the five were almost certain to make the team and if they can’t answer the opening bell, unheralded youngsters will likely get the call.