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Where do Rams position battles stand after preseason loss to Chargers?

Standout individual efforts bolster a few roster chances

NFL: AUG 12 Preseason - Chargers at Rams
Stetson Bennett gets grabbed by the facemask
Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Both the Los Angeles Rams coaches and players have plenty of work to do after a 34-17 loss to their roommates, the San Diego Chargers, in the opening weekend of NFL preseason. The L.A effort was marred by sloppy play and unforced mistakes, but there were some solid individual efforts that may have changed the whole scope of position battles.

For the next three weeks, these position battles may be fluid depending on injuries, team workouts, joint scrimmages/workouts with other teams (three scheduled), and the final two preseason games. But out of the ashes of the Chargers loss, these offensive position battles stand out as ones to watch going forward. The defensive side is coming soon.

QB #2: Stetson Bennett vs. Bret Rypien

Bennett moves ahead after game one, but there’s a long way to go. Rypien didn’t get much traction, while the rookie fared well. The stage lights won’t be too bright for Bennett. He showed the polish befitting his background as the field general of college football’s top program. Generally, his throws were accurate, he showed patience trying to get through his reads, and most importantly, sustained a few drives. His problems were some rookie bad decisions that can be cleaned up and a couple of things that were in his draft profile/projection. One is, he doesn’t have a big gun arm. On longer throws, particularly out patterns across the field, the ball tended to float and the other is that he looks quite small out there. I think he he only had one pass tipped though. I don’t want to be too to negative, he showed he can play at this level and will only get better with more reps.

Running back #3: Zach Evans vs. Ronnie Rivers

A re-telling of the proverbial story about the struggles between a talented, slightly under-achieving prince vs. the working-class ugly duckling who will give his all for king and country. Rivers is a slippery slasher who can run, catch, return, or play in coverage. If three yards are there, he’ll die trying to get four. When you think about Evans, his play in space comes right to mind, but I really liked how he ran inside vs. the Chargers, it was tough running. Evans will get you that same three yards and he could make a move and get you 10 more.

Tight end #3: Hunter Long vs. Davis Allen vs. Nikola Kilinic

Since there is no timetable for the returns of Long and Allen, maybe you could add Christian Sims and Camren McDonald. They were the only tight ends who dressed for the Chargers game. It was great chance for the two youngsters to get play time and film, but at this point, they are still long shots that might even struggle to earn a practice squad berth.

I could not find a game injury status report for Kilinic. Should fans read between the lines and consider his not playing makes him a roster lock, or was he being just saved so that the Rams would have three tight ends for this weeks joint scrimmage with the Las Vegas Raiders?

Center #2: Mike McAllister vs. Coleman Shelton vs. Brian Allen

Should Mike McAllister be considered into the mix at center? It was only the first preseason game, but the undrafted rookie pivot from Youngstown State looked very sturdy while logging 100% of snaps. He also played a little guard and never looked over-matched in his first game on the NFL. Shelton and Allen did not play at all.

Wide receiver #6: Tyler Johnson vs. Puka Nacua vs. Lance McCutcheon vs. Austin Trammel

The toughest battle on the roster. It was a solid, workman-like effort from the whole unit, I don’t remember any drops. If no one really shows out, the problem becomes a numbers game and who can offer some special teams work or be stashed away on the practice squad.

Johnson has NFL game, but is likely not a long-term answer. If placing him at WR#6, you have to determine if his value on the few snaps he receives will be enough to warrant holding back the possible development of a younger player. He may help in a win-now mode but could also put Nacua at the whims of the waiver wire.

Right guard #1: Zachary Thomas vs. Tremayne Anchrum

First off, let me say that I don’t think that Anchrum’s play should let anybody sneak up on him, but Thomas did play consistently strong at left guard and then later in the game, a few snaps at left tackle. If I was scoring it, his rating would have been as highest of the offensive linemen.

The Rams must have a reason for not inserting Thomas at right guard when Anchrum rotated out. But if Thomas can sustain his Week 1 play over the course of preseason, it could/should boil down to getting the best five players on the field.

Right tackle #2: Warren McClendon vs. Logan Bruss

At this point of his career, Bruss is much better opening holes in the run game than setting up as pass blocker. What I see is a rehash of his draft profile, opposing pass rushers beat him to the punch, literally. He too often allows defenders first leverage, either by getting their hands on body first in speed to power moves or getting a half step around the corner. Bruss’ just doesn’t have the length or powerful punch to stone or re-direct rushers. How well he handles cleaning up his weak spots is what we need to see from him. It is way too early to give up on him, but certainly not too early to speculate on McClendon giving him a battle.

The big rookie from Georgia wasn’t outstanding by any measure, but considering he missed a lot of early camp workouts with an ailing knee, he showed enough technique at both left and right tackle to deserve further reps. He just needs strength and conditioning work to get better. The ability to swing from end to end could be a determining factor if all other things work out equal.

5 offensive observations from Week 1

1) There’s a glint of a solid run game in the offensive line’s Week 1 play. They weren’t bulldozers, but were sticky on blocks, moved well and did pretty good job of turning and sealing defenders. I thought the interior trio of Zachary Thomas, Mike McAllister and Tremayne Anchrum worked very well together.

2) If the Rams do indeed keep nine linemen, barring any injury or huge surprises, it would appear seven spots are locked with Noteboom, Jackson, Avila, Allen, Shelton, Anchrum, Havenstein. Who grabs those last two? Will NFL game experience be the difference maker? Contracts, whether right or wrong, may also have a hand in the final decisions.

That leaves Thomas, Bruss, McClendon, and now, McAllIster in the running for the final two roster openings. When projecting the Rams offensive line, there’s a dearth of top-tier talent, but they do have an abundance of journeyman level blockers. The biggest roster battle may among these four youngsters.

3) Staying with the offensive line, there was an aggravating situation mid-way through the 1st quarter. The Rams had 3rd and two at their own 31 yard line and Rypien tossed a mid-length pass incomplete down the sideline. Now, even casual Rams fans know it’s a regular occurrence for them to spread it out in these scenarios and throw the football. But it is preseason after all, why not try to pound it now and find out how the linemen handle short yardage. If we really want to change the identity of the offensive line, it has to start with pounding out some short yardage first downs and red zone touchdowns.

4) The wide receiver room has a similar conundrum. After Kupp, Jefferson, and maybe Atwell (betting on the come line), the L.A. receiving corps has a solid but not spectacular vibe. Six players fighting for three roster spots, maybe four if anyone’s nicked up going into the season.

Only Bennett Skowronek can be counted on to be a special teams value, although Austin Trammel can do a little of everything. Puka Nacua has been a camp darling and the Rams are trying to shoehorn him into a return role. Demarcus Robinson and Tyler Johnson have NFL game time, but at their age and status, may not be willing to play special teams.

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams
Austin Corbett turns upfield after hauling in a pass
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

5) It’s time for the Rams to put away the counter/reverse bootleg off the fake wide zone run. It’s way past his expiration date. While it was successful back in the Todd Gurley days, the L.A. offense is simply not using outside zone run scheme enough to make it contestable. It wasn’t successful in fooling defensive ends last year and it didn’t fool the Chargers 2nd and 3rd strings either. Opposing defenses have figured it out, it’s time for the Rams offensive play calling to move on from it as well.

Moving up the roster: QB Stetson Bennett, RB Zach Evans, G Zachary Thomas, and C Mike McAllister.

Slipping back: QB Brett Rypien, T Logan Bruss, and T A.J. Arcuri.

Running in place: RB Ronnie Rivers, RB Royce Freeman, and the whole WR room.

Injured: WR Cooper Kupp, TE Hunter Long, and TE Davis Allen

What offensive position battles are missing?