OTAs and mini-camp may not mean a lot as players aren’t in pads and are unable to tackle. However, this is where rookies start to get up to speed and coaches are able to develop players and set the tone for the season.
Below are three rookies and three veterans who stood out during OTAs according to the Rams media and coaches. These will be players to continue watching when the Rams take the field again for training camp next month.
WR Puka Nacua
There may not have been a player who’s stock rose more during OTAs and mini-camp than wide receiver Puka Nacua. The Rams selected Nacua in the fifth-round in the NFL Draft, but as a rookie, he has continued to catch the eyes of coaches and the media. It seemed as if everyday somebody was talking about the rookie out of BYU.
"We're expecting him to be able to contribute and compete."— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) June 8, 2023
Coach McVay + Cooper Kupp with early praise for @BYUfootball's Puka Nacua. ⤵️
Just during this final week of mini-camp, McVay said, “I love what I’ve seen from Puka Nacua...Puka Nacua is a guy that’s definitely stood out.”
Nacua is someone that’s been mentioned by Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp went on to to say,
“Yeah man he’s pretty special. I think if he can stay on a good trajectory, he’s going to be a very good football player in this league. I love the way that he attacks each day. He’s got a great feel for the game, great feel for leverage, running routes...He’s got a great feel for attacking leverage, how to stick things, his timing on when he needs to show up for things and he’s asking the right questions too. I think that’s the big thing. He’s asking the right questions and as he gets more reps over and over as he gets to see these things, he’s just going to get better and better.”
The Rams rookie has been consistently making plays when given the opportunity and with Kupp and Jefferson both missing some time, that opportunity has been there. According to reporting by The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, Stafford hit Nacua on a goal-line touchdown to start the final week of OTAs. Last week, Rodrigue noted that Nacua did a good job taking a coaching pointer from McVay and turned it into a touchdown later in the same drill.
What does this mean exactly for Nacua moving forward? Only time will tell. The Rams typically haven’t played rookie wide receivers. However, it can’t be seen as a bad thing for Nacua to be catching eyes this early.
Honorable Mention: TuTu Atwell
It is worth mentioning that TuTu Atwell has impressed and shown growth in his development as he enters year three. McVay has called Atwell a more complete player and commended his versatility. Gary Klein from the LA Times also noted that Atwell finally seems to be catching on. Klein went on to describe a play in which Stafford connected 40-yards downfield to Atwell who outmuscled two defenders to make the catch. It sounds like he’s ready to take that next step and be a regular contributor.
DL Kobie Turner
While Nacua has stolen much of the rookie hype during OTAs and mini-camp, Kobie Turner has slid completely under the radar. He’s another player that coaches have talked very highly of since the team took the field this spring.
McVay called Turner a “real bright spot” as the Rams had their final practice on Wednesday. This was after complimenting the third-round pick on Tuesday. McVay said,
“I think Kobie Turner on the defensive side of the ball, he’s done an amazing job. I’ve really been impressed with just his professionalism. He shines. His relentless effort to the football and then being able to just understand the nuances of what we’re asking of him.”
On the final day of practice, Turner had a key pressure on Matthew Stafford on third-down according to reporting by The Rams’ Stu Jackson. Klein from the LA Times also noted that the Rams third-round selection is making an impression. Turner has been a player who’s been standing out and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in a larger role this season.
Honorable Mention: Marquise Copeland
After losing both Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson in free agency, the Rams needed a veteran player outside of Aaron Donald to step into a larger role. Copeland has gotten a lot of praise over the last few weeks and is someone to continue watching.
S Jordan Fuller
Fuller entered the scene as a sixth-round pick and made an immediate impact as a rookie. Unfortunately, an injury late in 2021 bled into 2022 and Fuller had a disappointing year three. The Rams lost both Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp in free agency. If the defense is going to have any chance of playing well this season, they’re going to need Fuller to play up to his potential. That’s exactly what he’s doing thus far.
During his media availability, Raheem Morris said that he was “fired up for (Fuller) and what’s going to happen for his development.”
On top of that praise, Fuller has been making plays during practice.
Have been impressed with S Jordan Fuller, who has carried over playmaking from OTAs to minicamp. Tutu Atwell being the target on one of these actually led to a savvy recovery he may not have done a couple years ago. Plus, more observations, news and notes: https://t.co/BtbSQYi0Oc— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) June 13, 2023
According to reporting by Rodrigue, Fuller nearly had an interception on Tuesday that was broken up on a hustle play by TuTu Atwell. He broke up a similar pass down the field on Wednesday and also had a pass breakup in the short area of the field on another throw intended for Atwell.
It’s possible that we could see a step forward in Fuller’s development after being hampered by injuries for the last year and a half. He’s off to good start to the offseason.
CB Derion Kendrick
Kendrick is coming off of an inconsistent rookie season that saw him show flashes, but also had some rocky moments. Following the last few weeks of the Rams’ offseason program, he may be a player to watch opposite of Cobie Durant.
Said Morris on Kendrick,
“What I want to see from Derion Kendrick is exactly what he’s given me. Urgency. He’s given me complete and absolute hustle. He’s given me some playmaking ability on the ball and off the ball. He provides great energy and juice just with his enthusiasm and his personality. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow to his highest level, whatever that is.”
Stu Jackson from TheRams.com has noted that Kendrick has been practicing like someone who knows that he’s in for a bigger role this season. Rodrigue from The Athletic highlighted two plays made by Kendrick. On the first play, he broke up a deep throw along the sideline. Kendrick had another pass breakup in the red zone that he apparently almost intercepted.
Will expand on these thoughts in my observations piece later, but the velocity on the throws Matthew Stafford made during redzone work and Derion Kendrick's overall activity during team periods (including redzone) both stood out in today's minicamp practice.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) June 13, 2023
With Jalen Ramsey no longer on the team, the Rams need one of their bigger cornerbacks to step into a larger role. Is that Kendrick or someone like Robert Rochell? As it stands, Kendrick looks like he’s ready for the moment and ready to embrace the challenge. He’ll be someone to continue to watch this summer.
QB Stetson Bennett
The Rams drafted Stetson Bennett in the fourth-round of the NFL Draft. Following a year in which there was a lot of turmoil at the backup quarterback position, the hope will be that Bennett can add some stability.
Stetson Bennett has been DEALING at Rams OTA’s.— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) June 9, 2023
Bennett’s “athleticism” has reportedly stood out throughout OTA’s.
Cooper Kupp recently noted that Bennett has made some “really big-time throws” in practices.
The Rams rookie QB is impressing EARLY. pic.twitter.com/hUcuQOA8qt
For Bennet, the biggest thing is getting him up to speed so that if he does have to enter a game, he’s ready. Throughout the offseason, he’s garnered praise from players like Stafford and Kupp as well as coaches like McVay and Mike LaFleur.
LaFleur during his media availability said,
“I think he’s best when the ball is just snapped. All this stuff is new to him in terms of the verbiage, but when that ball snaps, you can just tell it’s not too big for him. He can breathe easy when that ball snaps and he’s got kind of that natural gamer to him.”
Bennett has been praised for his ability to throw on the move. A notable play by Bennett during OTAs as described by The Athletic’s Rodrigue, the rookie quarterback threaded a pass through three defenders and found Kyren Williams in the end zone.
Of course, it hasn’t all been perfect for Bennett. He has thrown his share of interceptions and had mistakes. Those are going to happen for a young, rookie quarterback. The big thing is that the game isn’t too big for him and that doesn’t seem to be the case.
LB Ernest Jones
One player to keep an eye on as someone who could take a step forward this season is linebacker Ernest Jones. Jones had a good season, but took a backseat last year when the Rams signed Bobby Wagner. Now, learning from Wagner is never a bad thing and that was the case with Jones.
On Jones, Morris said,
“Ernest is our green dot going out throughout the process doing some of those things, so he’s certainly developed. Being with Bobby (Wagner) last year certainly helped him from off the field standpoint, and certainly an on the field standpoint...Really fired up to see where he can go this year. Really fired up about Ernest and what he can become.”
Jones had a pair of impressive pass breakups last week that, “drew a lot of praise throughout practice from coaches and teammates,” according to Rodrigue.
Following a rookie season in which he helped lead a top-10 defense on its way to the Super Bowl, it can be argue that Jones was ready for a larger role last season. Now, he’ll have a year in which he got to shadow one of the best linebackers of all-time under his belt. Jones is going to play an important role on the Rams defense. His offseason is off to a strong start.
Honorable Mentions: Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel
Both Rozeboom and Hummel made a handful of notable plays during OTAs. There are some questions about the depth behind Jones. These are the two guys to keep an eye on during training camp in July.