The Los Angeles Rams opened up their preseason slate by losing the battle of LA to the Chargers 34-17. Even with all the growing pains expected out of a young team, there were plenty of promising performances that should have fans hopeful for the upcoming campaign.
So it’s time to dive into a progress check of notable first-year players from Week 1 of preseason action.
This was the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Despite losing out on the starting nod to Brett Rypien, Bennett made the most of his opportunities. He wasn’t perfect by any means but he provided a bright spot after an ineffective Rypien failed to lead LA on any scoring drives.
Stetson Bennett in his first game as a Los Angeles Ram:— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) August 13, 2023
• 17/29 passing (58.6%)
• 191 passing yards (led both teams)
• 1 passing TD
• 0 INT’s
• 89.9 passer rating
• led three drives that ended in either a TD or FG
Bennett with an impressive first performance as an NFL QB.… pic.twitter.com/TZbjUV9bc1
A fairly impressive outing indeed which may have provided the Georgia product an edge on Rypien in the battle for QB2 behind Matthew Stafford. Late in the second quarter, he led the Rams to their first touchdown of the preseason. Bennett maneuvered the pocket with poise before firing a dart to fellow rookie Puka Nacua for the score.
The accuracy and zip on that pass was a sight to behold for a guy who didn’t look the part of an “old-timer” as those in the media project him to be. I’ll be curious to see whether McVay will start Bennett in next Saturday’s game against Raiders. Regardless, it was a promising debut for the rookie signal caller who demonstrated to the fan base that LA will be in good hands if Stafford misses time.
Evans was drafted with the expectation that he’ll push Cam Akers for playing time while playing a significant role on offense. The youngster fared quite well, carrying the ball eight times for 34 yards, good for a 4.3 average on the ground. He led the team in rushing and showcased his ability to be a formidable weapon in the running game.
Evans isn’t on the fast track towards eating into Akers’ touches yet but he has a chance to surpass second-year pro Ronnie Rivers at RB3. Rivers was just behind Zach in rushing yards and touches on the evening. Both bring diverse skillsets to the offense, although Evans is more one-dimensional as he’s limited in the passing game compared to Rivers. This is likely a positional battle that won’t be resolved until after the final preseason game.
Battle of Ronnie Rivers vs. Zach Evans is going to be interesting for RB3. Rivers is the better pass catcher and has been in the system longer, but Evans is clearly the more explosive runner.— Rams Brothers (@RamsBrothers) August 13, 2023
The second-most anticipated debut of the night after Bennett didn’t disappoint. Nacua finished third in on the team in receptions behind Tyler Johnson and Austin Trammell. The first-year pass catcher caught three of his five targets for 32 yards.
Puka was the recipient of Bennett’s first professional touchdown mentioned above. However, Nacua caught a 17-yard pass earlier on the drive which picked up a crucial first down and allowed for LA’s first score of the night.
Nasty release and route by Puka Nacua pic.twitter.com/OQZhtnmLpt— Benjamin Criddle (@CriddleBenjamin) August 13, 2023
That was Nacua’s longest play of the game and enabled Bennett to extend the drive. If Puka is doing that for a fellow rook, imagine what he can do with a veteran QB like Stafford. He could become a pivotal receiver in the slot in big situations.
Cornerback Tre Tomlinson made his uncle LaDainian Tomlinson proud in his NFL debut. Early in the game, the rookie Tomlinson made life hell for former TCU teammate and Chargers first-year wideout Quentin Johnston through suffocating coverage.
#Chargers WR rookie Quentin Johnston gets locked up by former teammate and #Rams CB Tre Tomlinson.— NFL Notifications (@NFLNotify) August 13, 2023
Will Quentin Johnston be able to shake the body-catching, weak jump-ball narrative? pic.twitter.com/8oB2PY4kHm
Rams rookie CB Tre Tomlinson with some pretty nice coverage on the vertical route from Chargers rookie WR Quentin Johnston. Tomlinson made it too tough a catch for Johnston.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) August 13, 2023
Fun rep between two former TCU stars turned LA rivals. pic.twitter.com/h9Nh1MpUDB
Perhaps Tomlinson performed so well as he knew how best to cover his ex-teammate. I think we’ve seen enough out of the kid already to lock him down for a starting role. He oozes pure athleticism and rangy coverage skills that’ll serve him well against the nightmare receivers in the NFC West.
- Warren McClendon did an excellent job at LT protecting Stetson Bennett’s blind spot on LA’s initial touchdown drive. He was also the leading blocker on Ronnie Rivers’ 15-yard run, the longest rush by a Rams player on Saturday.
- Punters are people too and business is booming for Ethan Evans and his kicking leg. Evans punted six times for an 51.3 average, including a long of 62. Problem is, he outkicked his coverage halfway through the second quarter which led to a Chargers 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Derius Davis. He’ll learn soon enough but as we’ve seen throughout the game, he boots the ball like it owes him money.
Having the ability to “boom” a punt is fine.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) August 13, 2023
….but you can’t outkick your coverage. You leave your coverage unit susceptible to a big return which is exactly what happened. Closest gunner on that punt was 10 yards from the returner. Ethan Evans will learn from that one.
- Is it too late for a Matt Gay reunion? Rookie kicker Tanner Brown went 1-of-2 on his kicking opportunities. He missed one wide left but rebounded later with a 39-yarder. We’ll see how he fares with other chances but if he can’t fix what he needs to, it’ll be a very long season for the Rams’ special teams unit.