The Los Angeles Rams are entering one of their more intriguing preseasons in quite some time. Throughout the Sean McVay era, the Rams have typically rested all of their starters in the preseason in preparation for Week 1. With the amount of competition on the current roster, that won’t be the case on Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Throughout training camp, there has been competition all over the roster. That won’t stop as we had into the preseason. A good or bad three games could certainly change the landscape at certain positions. Below are players who need to have a good preseason.
OL Joe Noteboom
There may not be a player who needs to have a better preseason than Joe Noteboom on the offensive line. The Rams signed Noteboom to a contract extension last offseason and then restructured his deal this past offseason despite him coming off of a torn achilles. With how much the Rams have invested in Noteboom in time and money, they need him to be able to step into a starting role and perform.
“Noteboom, now healthy after an Achilles tear last season, is the more veteran player who got a contract extension in 2022. Would the Rams really take the ego-punch of moving a player they invested significant contract dollars in into a reserve role? Or … would they perhaps find another starting role for him at another spot? Especially if, over the next few weeks, Noteboom shows he can compete elsewhere?”
Noteboom has been competing with Alaric Jackson at left tackle and the Rams have been rotating them throughout training camp. With that said, Noteboom could be in line for another position — that position being right guard.
The offensive line is going to be the biggest question that the Rams will have to answer during the preseason and that starts with Noteboom. Is this a player who can start at left tackle or can he switch sides and play right guard? Contrarily, is he simply a swing tackle in a depth role? It’s possible that we see Noteboom in multiple spots throughout the preseason. Sean McVay said on Thursday,
“Because we feel like he’s one of our better players. We want to be able to move him around and just figuring out kind of the best way to mix and match. Joe’s the guy that can kind of play inside and outside so it’s one of those deals that we kind of had planned initially and he started at guard for us before. Whether or not he ends up doing that or playing tackle, we’re still kind of working through that.”
The Rams need to figure this out quickly. As Kenneth Arthur noted earlier this week, the Rams absolutely cannot go into the third week of the preseason and not know who their starting offensive line is. This is something that they really need to figure out on Saturday against the Chargers.
S Quentin Lake or Tanner Ingle
The John Johnson III signing certainly complicated things at the safety position for those at the bottom of the depth chart, competing for a roster spot. With that said, I’m not sure that signing will determine whether or not the Rams do end up keeping one of their undrafted free agent safeties.
Tanner Ingle will be a name to watch as he is someone who has made plays throughout training camp. He’ll need to continue that momentum into the preseason. However, the name to watch here may end up being 2022 sixth-round pick, Quentin Lake.
Lake picked up momentum towards the later stages of training camp, making plays on the ball and showing versatility in a “money” linebacker role on the defense. According to Rodrigue,
“The second-year safety (Quentin Lake) made multiple plays on the ball throughout camp, and played safety and dime linebacker (an important sub package in the Rams’ defense, as noted by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris).”
The Rams’ Stu Jackson noted a play on the team’s final day of training camp in which Lake intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass that was tipped in the secondary. The day before he had an impressive pass breakup.
Jordan Fuller should be a starter at safety and Johnson III adds a familiar face that the Rams are comfortable with going into the season. Still, keep an eye on Lake in the preseason.
WR Puka Nacua
The Rams rookie wide receiver has been able to handle everything that the Rams have thrown at him throughout the offseason. Without Kupp on the practice field, Nacua has been asked to do a lot and up to this point, he’s been able to manage it all.
Still, much like moving from OTAs into training camp, it will be important for Nacua to carry that momentum and progress into the preseason. Nacua was listed behind TuTu Atwell on the team’s initial depth chart. While Atwell has been praised in training camp by the coaching staff, it Nacua has a good preseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him cut into Atwell’s snaps and possibly become the third wide receiver in the offense.
According to the Rams’ Stu Jackson on the final day of training camp, “One of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s best passes of the day came when Nacua snagged a Stafford pass in tight space near the sideline”
This isn’t to say that Atwell hasn’t done well either. He’s been showing off his ability as a deep threat throughout camp and both coaches and Stafford have commended his versatility. However, with a good preseason, the Rams could look to get Nacua on the field once the games start to matter.
EDGE Byron Young
There wasn't a lot of information that came out of training camp at the edge rusher position. This means that the preseason it going to be huge for this position group, specifically Byron Young. The Rams will need Young to produce this season and generate pressure off of the edge. It will be important for him to start picking up some momentum and confidence over the next few weeks. As noted by Rodrigue,
“The third-round rookie outside linebacker was already working his way into the rotation opposite position leader Michael Hoecht, when fellow rookie Ochaun Mathis hurt his knee (he will be out for a few weeks). Young’s opportunities appeared to increase after that, and he’ll have a chance to put it all together in the preseason.”
Last weekend, the Rams’ Stu Jackson noted a play in which Young showcased his speed to contain a jet sweep. As a third-round rookie, it may seem unfair to have this level of expectation to perform immediate. However, with the current state of the edge rusher position, that's the case for Young. The Rams need him to perform and these preseason reps are going to be huge for him.
QB Stetson Bennett
It should be expected that Stetson Bennett has his rookie bumps throughout the preseason. Still, he’s a player that needs to have a good preseason and show continued growth. He did some good things in training camp and will need to carry that into live game action.
In the final days of training camp, the Rams’ Stu Jackson described impressive throws from Bennett. One was a deep throw to Zach Evans in which he hit the rookie running back in-stride. On the other, he connected with Lance McCutcheon.
The backup quarterback competition is still wide open and given that the Rams drafted Bennett, it should be his to lose. It’s possible that the Rams keep three quarterbacks, but the presence would probably be to only keep two and use the extra roster spot somewhere else. If Bennett shows that he can handle the backup role, it may give the Rams confidence to roll with just him and Stafford in the quarterback room heading into Week 1.
Honorable Mention: Ernest Brown IV
Following quiet rookie and sophomore seasons, there has been some positive momentum surrounding Brown as he heads into year three. This is a player that on the final day of training camp was complimented by Aaron Donald. Donald said to the press,
“Ernest Brown has been looking good...He’s stepped in and got some starting time last year. So for me to be out there with him and get to work with him, and the first team reps and getting some plays with him, he’s doing good, getting better.”
The defensive line is going to be a fun position battle during training camp. Jonah Williams and Kobie Turner have been making some noise and Desjuan Johnson will be someone to watch. With that said, to hear some positive things about Brown heading into year three is encouraging.