In what was a somewhat disappointing showing for the team on Saturday night, other than a couple of key rookie standouts, the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Chargers by a score of 34-17 in the preseason opener. But the score isn’t nearly as important as how individuals performed on the SoFi Stadium stage, with perhaps no bigger questions to answer in training camp and preseason than “Who will start on the offensive line?”
With that unit, some clues may have been revealed in Saturday’s loss.
This is only the first preseason game for an extremely young roster (over 60% of the roster is under the age of 24) and expectations need to be tempered. That said, there was still hope for a stronger showing out of the run game and the offensive line. In addition to being held under 100 yards rushing, the Rams also allowed four sacks.
Given the rough line play in 2022, plus having open battles at center, left tackle and right guard, I was surprised to see rookie Mike McAllister starting at center for the first series.
Center is a position up in the air, and one of significance for the Rams as they try to improve run game and play action pass from last season, however both potential starters, Brian Allen and Coleman Shelton, did not play a snap.
I understand this is the first preseason game and they may be more likely to play in week two or three, but given that we still don’t even know who is the actual starter at center is, it could be beneficial to see what these players have with as many live reps as possible.
Allen has missed an abundance of games the last two seasons and is a bit undersized. LA has emphasized getting bigger on the interior of the offensive line, with Shelton’s size and availability giving him the edge on starting center so far.
Another sore spot was seeing Joe Noteboom on the sidelines while Alaric Jackson started the game. Reports out of camp are that Jackson has played the position with more consistency and success throughout camp, so Noteboom not playing at all doesn’t help his bid for left tackle.
It’s been rumored that Noteboom could even be making the move to right guard. The Rams currently list Tremayne Anchrum Jr. as the starter at right guard, he also played for the first couple series without direct competition from Noteboom.
Head Coach Sean McVay, when asked about Noteboom’s potential move to right guard, said:
We want to be able to move him around and just figuring out kind of the best way to mix and match,” McVay continued “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 ofworking through that.”
It’s possible the Rams are just being careful with Noteboom after his last season ended early due to injury, but with his actual position in flux, it would be nice to see him maximize his amount of live reps to show if he is better than who is currently slated to start above him. Anchrum Jr. had the highest PFF grade of the linemen last night with an 85.0 and no pressures in 42 plays on the field, so that will only help his lead on Noteboom at right guard.
Logan Bruss’s struggles
Second year player, Logan Bruss also had a tough start to the night, specifically in his pass blocking, immediately giving up a sack. Bruss did execute better throughout the night though, playing a key role in the run game and even improving his pass pro on the Rams first touchdown of the night - a throw from rookie Stetson Bennett to fellow first year player Puka Nacua.
We also need to keep in mind, Bruss is recovering from major knee surgery and making the move from right guard to right tackle, his natural position in college. The injury has made for a challenging start to Bruss’ NFL career and it’s something he acknowledges he’s had to work through:
“Last time I was on a field, things didn’t turn out so well. Just getting that mental confidence and getting past that mental block of, ‘I’m not hurt anymore, I’m healthy feeling good,’ that was the biggest thing for me.”
Noteboom and Bruss afford the same amount of patience when it comes to their respective injury recoveries, but with Bruss at least playing some, it’s hard to find a positive in Noteboom’s favor coming out of the first preseason game.
It wasn’t all bad for the Rams offensive line though. As mentioned earlier, Anchrum Jr. had a good night and was really comfortable at right guard. Steve Avila already looks like a staple of the interior offensive line and rookie Warren McClendon filled in well for Jackson. The run game greatly improved as the game went on, with rookie Zach Evans and veteran Royce Freeman, totaling 65 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
Take this first game with a grain of salt, as it is only preseason and sloppy play can be expected from a team that hasn’t played a game in almost eight months, but hopefully Los Angeles can improve on what they’ve started going into week two against the Las Vegas Raiders.