Training camp is now in full swing for the 2023 Los Angeles Rams.
More than 40 rookies fill out this year’s roster, which has seemingly injected a youthful energy into the veteran core—including head coach Sean McVay. There’s no telling what the outcomes look like for a franchise with so many new faces, but we will have our answers soon enough.
The first week of training camp is coming to a close, so let’s take a look out who’s standing out in both positive and negative ways:
Health (at least so far, keep those fingers crossed)
Only TE Hunter Long and OT Warren McClendon started out on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which were expected statuses for the team based on offseason health reports.
While attrition has already set in for several teams around the league—such as stars Jalen Ramsey and Joe Burrow already set to miss weeks of valuable time for the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively—the Rams have not rank into any bumps in the road quite yet. Injuries happen for every team, it’s just a matter of when, how long, to who, and who can step up as a replacement.
As long as Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford are healthy, Los Angeles should be in good hands.
Puka Nacua, WR
After multiple positive minicamp reports surrounding rookie receiver Puka Nacua, I warned Rams fans to beware of the hype. WR’s are primed to look great in training camp and during offseason workouts when the physicality of the game is scaled back.
But Nacua has maintained the positive momentum into camp, and he could be pushing for a regular role with the starting 11. The rookie has ability as a physical runner after the catch and also has capabilities as a gadget-type player on jet sweeps and reverses. He even aligned in the backfield at times in college.
McVay could have another iteration of Deebo Samuel on his hands, though LA fans are more keen on comparing him to former Ram Robert Woods.
Two days into training camp, very apparent the Rams are continuing to test and give big workload to rookie WR Puka Nacua just as they did during OTAs and minicamp.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) July 28, 2023
Cam Akers, RB
The fourth-year running back indicated that his weight is “way up” as he’d added bulk to take on the toll that comes with the physical nature of the position. It’s difficult to see Akers headed for any sort of role other than that of a workhorse to start the year. It seems he’s done everything within his control to maintain a firm grasp atop the depth chart.
DeMarco Farr seems as hyped as anyone regarding the veteran, and he almost couldn’t talk about anything else during the latest edition of Between the Horns podcast:
Stetson Bennett, QB
It won’t take much in order to improve over what John Wolford and Bryce Perkins contributed as reserve signal callers a year ago, and already Bennett his showing his penchant for making plays on the move. Matthew Stafford is 35 years old and battled injuries from the preseason on a year ago, so the rookie could have his chance sooner than later. At a minimum, his mobility should give him a chance to survive—though it will be very interesting to see how he fares in the preseason.
Cobie Durant, CB
The “winners” list has skewed offensively so far, and really there hasn’t been much separation on the defensive side of the ball. Normally defenses have the upper hand in the early days of camp.
Merely going off of Durant’s press conference and hearing DC Raheem Morris speak to the media, the second-year CB is taking on a leadership role for the Rams defense at the “star” position and the secondary signal caller after LB Ernest Jones. Morris spoke on how Durant studied under the stewardship of veteran Troy Hill last season.
At a minimum, Durant should be on the field often if he has a role as a signal caller. What he does with that playing time is up to him, though his performance on limited snaps a year ago was encouraging.
Rashad Torrence, DB
With more than 40 rookies on the roster—especially on defense—you need to separate yourself with memorable plays. Torrence is one of the few who’s accomplished that so far. Can he keep it up?
Demarcus Robinson, WR
Robinson is battling for a roster spot with fellow veteran receiver Tyler Johnson, and through the first days of camp Robinson has earned the early lead. He flashed a big catch radius on a reception from Bennett that he plucked out of the air.
How far up the depth chart can Robinson climb? Would LA value a steady veteran presence over giving young players like Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Puka Nacua reps?
Tanner Brown, K
Los Angeles released the more well-known of their two rookies UDFA kickers, Christopher Dunn, after minicamp—leaving the team with just Oklahoma State’s Tanner Brown on the roster. The Rams still haven’t brought in veteran competition, or any competition really, for Brown. Here’s what special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn had to say about the rookie:
“...(Brown) didn’t miss a lot of kicks. I can tell you that. Hit the ball clean, has a really strong leg. Mentally, that mental makeup and the mesh between the three of them (rookie punter Ethan Evans and rookie long snapper Alex Ward) is really good.”
Van Jefferson, WR
I understand that it’s still early and many fans will take offense to Jefferson being on the “losers” list already, but how are you supposed to feel good about a player who needed a veteran rest day on the second day of training camp? What is there to rest from at that point? Jefferson entered last season with injury concerns that carried over from the 2021 playoff push, and ultimately he didn’t suit up for a game until Week 8.
Most assume that Jefferson has a firm grasp on the WR#2 role, but I’d say it’s up for grabs. Can Atwell, Nacua, Skowronek, or Robinson usurp the fourth-year receiver who is heading into a contract year?
It’s looking line another year of having more questions than answers as to who Jefferson is as an NFL player. Will it ever all come together for him?
WR Van Jefferson had a rest day, per team.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) July 28, 2023
Kevin Demoff, Chief Operating Officer
Demoff appeared on The Athletic’s 11 Personnel podcast as he does every offseason and attempted to address whether the team approached Matthew Stafford about “restructuring” his recently extended contract—asserting that the team did not ask such from their franchise quarterback.
But when Stafford was in front of the media, he had a different tune to sing and confirmed that the team did approach him about changing his contract.
Demoff also misleadingly stated that the Rams had the ability to move on “free and clear” from Stafford early this offseason, but in reality the team would have incurred a massive dead cap hit extending the quarterback post Super Bowl victory—a move that I warned of back in the 2021 season.
It’s never a good sign when one of your most important players is not on the same page as a top executive, and it’s rare for an organization like the Rams to have such a public relationship misstep. Unless Stafford turns things around in 2023, he and the team are likely headed towards an ugly divorce.
Rumors: "Rams approached Matthew Stafford to re-do his contract, he refused"— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) July 27, 2023
Rams Kevin Demoff: "We didn't ask him to restructure" (important phrasing)
Rams Matthew Stafford: "Yes they did" (but I don't know the technical terms)
Now camp is really getting started https://t.co/OILw7Ij28f
Edge rushers, save for Michael Hoecht
It’s still early of course, but it’s disappointing that no individual OLB have distanced themselves from the competition. Hoecht held a press conference on the first day, which signals he should hold a leadership role on the defense.
The preseason will be important for Daniel Hardy, Byron Young, Nick Hampton, and Ochaun Mathis.
Robert Rochell, CB
I’ve heard far more about Ahkello Witherspoon, Cobie Durant, and Derion Kendrick over the first few days than Rochell, who disappeared last season after an encouraging rookie year.
The recent signing of Witherspoon brings size to the group that only Rochell offers otherwise, which could be the front office and coaching staff’s way of expressing doubt about the third-year corner.
Hunter Long, TE
Long has only a single reception to his name as the NFL level. He’s already behind the eight ball by starting camp on the PUP list, and he has a long learning curve as he feels out what is a new offensive scheme for him.
Could Brycen Hopkins keep his hold on the primary reserve spot behind Tyler Higbee? There’s also been some positive reporting around rookie TE Davis Allen. Long needs to find a way onto the field and make an impression as soon as possible, or he might become an afterthought in Los Angeles similar to his time in Miami.