The Los Angeles Rams open their training camp on July 25th at UC Irvine and this year’s team will look very different from 2022. After losing multiple veterans, welcoming a wave of new rookies and finding previous role players on the team who could have the potential to start, there are plenty of things to keep an eye on as the season preparation begins.
There will be countless storylines this year because of all the changes—44 new players as well as new faces on the coaching staff—but these are four I’ll be following closely.
The health of Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford has been an enigma since winning his first Super Bowl title with Los Angeles in 2021. After throwing 41 touchdowns and getting his ring, Stafford signed a 4-year extension worth up to $160 million. However, after offseason elbow injury, below average play and a spinal contusion that ended his season after only nine games, there were rumblings this offseason of the Rams trying to move him.
Stafford is still here, and reports out of OTAs was that the extended time off seems to have been the remedy for his elbow and neck aliments. He has been sharp so far and showing off the deep ball again. It will remain to be seen if Stafford can stay healthy at age 35 behind a very unproven offensive line and wide receiver room, not counting Cooper Kupp.
If healthy, Stafford has proven that he can play at a top 10 quarterback level. It’s also probably safe to say LA shouldn’t have as many injuries as they did last year along the offensive line, but if Stafford is hit early and his body can’t hold up, this year could look a lot closer to 2022 than 2021.
Los Angeles might find themselves in a scenario where they are forced to see what rookie Stetson Bennett can do now before the 2024 draft, which should have a strong quarterback class including USC’s Caleb Williams and University of North Carolina’s Drake Maye.
The rookie invasion
Los Angeles went into the draft with 11 picks, which ranked among the most in the NFL. They ended with 14 total after some draft day trades, making for a very large rookie class. On top of this, the Rams initially signed an additional 26 undrafted rookie players as well.
Before the draft, LA only had 44 players total on the roster, so as it sits, the roster is now made up almost 50% rookies with 34 currently still on the team (a few have been released since signing).
This means inevitably some rookies are going to be starting and making a big impact on the team’s amount of success or failure early. It will be interesting to see how the Rams navigate training camp with so much young talent that needs to be developed. With the shear abundance of young players, If they hit on even a quarter of them, it will be a very successful draft class.
Steve Avila, Byron Young and Kobie Turner are already slated to start and the Rams look content to go into the season with a rookie kicker and punter as well. Stetson Bennett is the main backup quarterback and wide receiver Puka Nacua looks to already be carving out a role for himself.
Who knows how many other rookies will be seeing significant playing time once the regular season rolls around.
Is Michael Hoecht the answer at edge rusher?
Michael Hoecht got significant playing time last year that he probably did not see coming at the start of 2022. With his opportunity, Hoecht proved he was more than just a practice player. After not seeing much playing time before week 9, Hoecht finished the season strong with 36 total tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was one of the few players on the defensive line able to get consistent pressure.
Being an undrafted player in the 2020 draft, it remains to be seen if the Rams trust Hoecht enough yet to hand him the starting position at edge rusher. Rookie 5th round pick Nick Hampton is behind him currently on the depth chart, and given that Hoecht has been with the Rams since 2020 and only seen extended playing time last year, he will again need to prove himself to the coaching staff or risk losing his job to the rookie out of Appalachian State.
Who is starting at offensive line and in the defensive backfield?
This may be the biggest question heading into camp. After an abysmal year, plagued with more injuries than thought possible, the Rams offensive line looked to be one of the weakest positions on the team. This caused Los Angeles to use their second round pick (first of theirs in the draft) on TCU’s guard Steve Avila. With no other big name additions though, it looks as though the Rams are going to try and shift around what they have and hope to not be bit by the same injury bug as season.
While there were no trades made, there was one more player added back into the mix. On the other side of what appears to be rookie starter Avila, is second year player Logan Bruss. Bruss was a high draft pick out of Wisconsin by the Rams in 2022, but missed the season due to a knee injury. He, like Avila, is a mauler that is strong in the run game.
With Coleman Shelton going into camp as the starting center, the Rams now look much bigger and physical in the middle than they did last year. It will remain to be seen what Bruss can do, but if lives up to the expectations LA had for him initially, he could be the key to improving a stale run game.
Cornerback is a little different as there is a good amount of depth at the position. Unfortunately, almost all of this depth is made up of 1st and 2nd year players.
Reports out of OTAs were that second year players, Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick, have made “tremendous strides” per head coach Sean McVay. These two are currently looking like the starting cornerbacks along with some combination of Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Robert Rochelle in the slot position.
Los Angeles will need Durant and Kendrick’s development to be remarkable if they hope to have any improvement on defense after trading away perennial pro bowler, Jalen Ramsey.