We are now less than a full week away from training camp, and it’s nearly time to start the 2023 NFL season. The Los Angeles Rams have underwent significant change and are embracing youth on both the offense and defense—they still have three franchise cornerstones in Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford. Sean McVay returns for another season as LA’s lead man and seems intent on returning to his 2017 coaching roots.
Each training camp and preseason brings a renewed sense of optimism for even the usual bottom dwellers of the NFL. Fans talk themselves into why their team’s problem areas were adequately addressed in either free agency or the NFL Draft, and then media reports from camp help solidify their confirmation bias.
We want to believe the hype. We want our teams to be great—even despite the fact the Rams suffered veteran loss after veteran loss this offseason with only Hunter Long, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tyler Johnson, and Demarcus Robinson coming in as experienced reinforcements. It’s probable that LA is very bad this season, and it’s within the realm of possibility they defy the odds and earn a postseason berth—time will tell.
Which media reports from training camp should you take stock of, and which should you let go in one ear and out the other? Let’s discuss:
Put weight behind depth chart reporting
Veterans often get rest days in training camp. While there are fewer vets in camp this year for the Rams, it’s still important and notable when rookies or unheralded players are running with the first team. Think of Jordan Fuller earning first-string reps during 2020 despite his sixth round draft status.
There are several starting gigs that are anyone’s game this year, especially on defense. Nearly all positions in the secondary are up for grabs, and Los Angeles needs to identify complementary pieces up front next to Donald.
For example: if you see that Kobie Turner is taking first team reps away from Marquise Copeland and/or Jonah Williams, pay attention. Even if you don’t see the rookie in the starting lineup Week 1, that data point suggest he’ll have an opportunity sooner than later.
Disregard nearly all news surrounding WR’s and CB’s
Allen Robinson and Tutu Atwell were such stars at Rams training camp last year, it almost seems cruel for people to report on “developments” at camp every season.— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) March 6, 2023
WR and CB are positions that are primed to look good when the physical nature of football is toned down, and that has led to some lessons learned in recent memory.
Remember when Allen Robinson looked like a sure-fire Pro Bowler last year and then went on to catch only 33 passes for 339 yards and 3 TD’s over 10 regular season games? We should have paid more attention to the fact the majority of his practice reps came with John Wolford while Matthew Stafford rehabbed an elbow injury.
There was also significant hype around Tutu Atwell last season, but the coaching staff didn’t give the receiver many opportunities in his second season until LA’s season was all but over. Atwell finished the year strong and was probably the best receiver for the Rams over the second half of 2022, but he needs meaningful reps in both training camp and the preseason this year.
Rookie WR Puka Nacua received ample praise this summer during the team’s minicamp, but there is a logjam that he must first clear before he earns significant playing time. Can Nacua really edge out Van Jefferson, Atwell, and Ben Skowronek for a key role in this offense? Let’s take a more measured approach this season and hope he proves us wrong.
Keep an eye on special teams
With 40 rookies on the current version of the roster, there will be room for individuals to standout and make the roster simply because of their special team prowess. This also allows them to be stashed on the roster as they hone their skills that will help them contribute on offense or defense down the road.
Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel were both special teams staples a year ago that will now compete for playing time alongside Ernest Jones at MLB. Nick Scott was drafted as a special teams ace before he developed into a starting caliber safety and earned a sizeable free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Michael Hoecht is another example of how you can flash athleticism on special teams and then figure the rest out later. He’d been an oversized gunner on kick offs but then transitioned from interior defensive line to edge defender when Terrell Lewis and Justin Hollins couldn’t live up to expectations last year. Hoecht could be one of the most important defensive players for Los Angeles in 2023.
Special teams matter and unheralded players will come out of seemingly nowhere to make the roster because of it. If you hear of individuals standing out in this facet, commit their name to memory and you might hear more and more from them as a result.