In recent years training camp for the Los Angeles Rams mostly seemed to be a formality: veteran-laden rosters going through the motions before ramping up for the regular season. We knew starters and even some key backups wouldn’t participate in the preseason—so just wake me up when the regular season starts.
But this year is different. I haven’t been this excited for Rams training camp to kickoff in some time.
There’s really no telling who this year’s team will be. Both a playoff berth and top-five draft selection are on the table, and time will tell whether Sean McVay can pull together a team with more than 40 rookies.
These are the things that I am thinking at the start of training camp 2023:
Keep 2024 in mind at all times
When analyzing which players are on the bubble and how the various rungs of the depth chart will shake out, it’s important to remember that the Rams are fully focused on 2024. If a player entering a contract year is performing at a level even with a rookie, don’t be surprised if LA embraces youth.
If we see veterans fall out of favor for young players sooner than later, that is also important insight into how the Rams view their chances this season.
Stetson Bennett will make at least one start
2022 was the first season in a while that Matthew Stafford missed an extended period of time due to injury, but the quarterback has infamously played with various bumps and bruises over the years. After multiple stints in the concussion protocol and a season-ending spinal cord contusion, it’s fair to be concerned regarding Stafford’s bill of health going forward. Also, if the Rams aren’t in contention they might err on the side of caution and keep their franchise QB on the sidelines.
It’s fairly unusual for a team to enter the season with a mid-round pick as the primary backup signal caller, but Los Angeles seems pretty optimistic about Stetson Bennett. While Bennett certainly does not have Stafford’s acumen, his athleticism and running ability could be a welcome addition to the Rams offense and allow McVay to reach into a new bag of schematic tricks.
Tutu Atwell will out-produce Van Jefferson for WR#2
LA is asking Jefferson to take on a larger role this season after moving on from Robert Woods and Allen Robinson in consecutive offseasons. While Jefferson has produced well as a situational contributor at times, he’s struggled when he’s used as a focal point—see Super Bowl LVI after Odell Beckham, Jr. went down with injury.
On the other hand, third-year receiver Tutu Atwell seems primed to perform. While his size may limit how often he can stay on the field, Atwell came on strong towards the end of last season without Stafford and is carrying significant momentum into 2023. I think he will be the Rams’ number two receiver in terms of yardage and touchdowns (but Jefferson could play more snaps).
Ahkello Witherspoon is Rams’ best corner
McVay mentioned that second-year CB’s Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick played admirably during the team’s offseason minicamp; however, actions speak louder than words and the team signed veteran Ahkello Witherspoon ahead of training camp—perhaps suggesting that the team is not confident in Durant and Kendrick.
While it’s better for the long-term future of the team for the younger corners to perform well and take over, Witherspoon is probably the better defender right now. Even after drafting Tre Tomlinson this spring, LA needs to keep investing in the secondary. They also need to find players with size, as Durant and Tomlinson are both slight at best.
There are new, promising offensive coaches to watch
Mike LaFleur seemed to be the scapegoat for the New York Jets’ struggles a year ago, but a strong performance as offensive coordinator in LA could help rehabilitate his image. If he can quell concerns that follow him from New York, LaFleur could be a head coach candidate sooner than later.
I am also watching a couple other newcomers for LA’s offensive staff: Nick Caley (tight ends) and Ryan Wendell (offensive line). Caley comes from the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick’s coaching staff. When Josh McDaniels left to take the head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders, Belichick head scratchingly overlooked Caley and instead asked Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to lead the offense. He brings an offensive background that is much different than the usual McVay tree, and could help impact the running game and implement more gap-based run schemes.
Wendell comes from the Buffalo Bills and is a former NFL player. He will look to repair an offensive line that quickly fell apart last season with injuries. The Rams’ running game has been anemic in recent years, and Wendell could earn a lot of credit if they are able to turn things around.