The Los Angeles Rams open their 2023 training camp July 29th at UC Irvine. While there are many positions available for the taking, such as who’s going to be kicking or who is going to rush opposite Aaron Donald, these are the three battles I believe will be most impactful on the Rams success in the coming year.
Number three wide receiver position
If last year was a learning opportunity for LA, they should take away that Cooper Kupp cannot do it all alone. The Allen Robinson situation did not work out in the Rams’ favor and early injuries to Van Jefferson really left the wide receiver room in shambles. However, when healthy Van Jefferson has proven to be a solid number 2 wide receiver and I believe him and Kupp are intrenched atop the depth chart.
The third wideout position is where it begins to get intriguing. Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek and rookie Puka Nacua seem to be the three competing for a chance at the job.
Ben Skowronek brings playing experience, including a consistent rotational role on the 2021 Super Bowl roster. He is versatile, being able to play outside and in the slot, and even took snaps at fullback last year. He does lack some speed and has had some inopportune drops at times. While I believe Skowronek talent will get him on the field some this year, I don’t think he will win the main third receiver spot.
Puka Nacua feels a lot like Cooper Kupp as a rookie in 2017. He seems to have really got some buzz in mini camp and it’s not to say that he will live up to the success of Kupp, but the skillsets are very similar. Nacua, a mid round pick like Kupp, is a sure handed receiver with very good blocking skills on the outside. While they both lack a little in top end speed, the duo are fast enough to be fully capable of running any route needed outside, and are not afraid of contact while catching the ball inside. When Sean McVay was asked about Nacua’s role going forward he said “We’re expecting him to be able to contribute and compete.” so it does seem like McVay is willing to give the rookie a chance.
TuTu Atwell, much like Nacua, has been the talk of camp this offseason. It’s been mentioned that he has made some big strides, and there have even been some clips, that have the fan base excited, of Matthew Stafford and him hooking up on some deep routes.
He showed he has explosive speed last year while on the field due to injuries. Atwell lacks some size, but if he can compensate with his quickness, he would give the Rams an ability to stretch the field that they have not had since speedster Brandin Cooks.
Projected starter: WR1 Cooper Kupp, WR2 Van Jefferson, WR3 Tutu Atwell, WR4 Puka Nacua
Picking the starting five offensive line
While this is a major position battle for the Rams, I think it’s one that relatively easy to figure out, even with some changes. One thing we can all but guarantee on is Rob Havenstein is going to be locked in at right tackle. He has proven to be one of the Rams most consistent lineman and is regarded as one of the best in the league at his position.
LA seems determined to get bigger in the middle to help with the run game. This is why rookie Steve Avila at 6’4’’ 331 lbs is a perfect fit at left guard. Given his almost fully guaranteed rookie deal, I believe the Rams already know he’s their guy. Logan Bruss also fits this mold as well, and if not for an injury early last year, would probably already be locked in at right guard. He’s a mauler and I think the addition of these two will go a long way in fixing the erratic run game of last year.
Coleman Shelton, not Brian Allen, will win the starting center job. Allen has become unreliable with injuries, and is one of the smaller centers in the league. Shelton, like Avila and Bruss, brings more size to the middle where he started 13 games last year, 8 at center. He was also one of LA’s only offseason moves made when they opted to re-sign him. Allen has been seen running the second team center position at camp thus far, with Shelton running with the starters.
Left tackle is the position most up in the air. Joe Noteboom signed a 3 year, $40 million dollar contract just last year but his play since makes it feel like that was a mistake. In his 6 games started last year, he gave up 5 sacks. AJ Jackson may have been an unsigned free agent signing but the offensive line looked much more stable with him at left tackle in his two starts last year. While I think LA will give Noteboom every chance to win the job given his contract, the leash will be very short with Jackson waiting in the wings.
Projected starters: LT Joe Noteboom, LG Steve Avila, C Coleman Shelton, RG Logan Bruss, RT Rob Havenstein
The 2nd cornerback position
Cobie Durant showed enough last year, and taking into account the Rams lack of experienced cornerback depth, that he should garner one of the outside starting corner position. Behind him will be some combination of Derion Kendrick, Robert Rochell, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Shaun Jolly.
Rochell is the veteran of the group, even with only three years experience. It would be easy to pencil him in across from Durant if not for a very disappointing 2022 season where he only had one solo tackle and saw Kendrick jump him on the depth chart. This, along with Kendrick’s ability to give support in stopping the run and him being the younger player, is why I think he will win the job opposite Durant, not Rochell.
Hodges-Tomlinson could end up being the best corner of the group after the year is said and done, however being an unproven rookie will keep him from one of the outside corner spots to start. However, Hodges-Tomlinson will most likely earn the starting nickel corner position. He has the most versatile skill set overall, with the ability to thrive in both man and zone coverages, and could eventually challenge for the second cornerback job by the end of the season.
Projected starters: CB1 Cobie Durant, CB2 Derion Kendrick, NCB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Rotational CBs Rochell and Jolly