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4 storylines heading into the Rams final preseason game against the Denver Broncos

LA’s offensive line questions and backup QB battle headline what to watch out for in Denver Saturday evening

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams look to finish strong against the Denver Broncos in their final preseason game of the season before heading into a bye week and the start regular season. While some questions have been answered, there are still some things that need clarity before the team lines up against the Seahawks week one in Seattle.

These are the four storylines I think are most important to keep an eye on in Denver Saturday night:

Offensive line: Who are the best 5?

Offensive line has been anything but stable thus far in the preseason. Pass blocking was an issue in week one versus the Chargers, as the Rams gave up four sacks. The run game also looked average at best, and while Stetson Bennett had a good outing, he was forced to play on the move through out most of the game.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is reason to be optimistic though, as LA improved in both their run blocking and pass blocking in week two against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Rams only allowed one sack, and Ronnie Rivers had Los Angeles’ run game looking much more formidable. It remains to be seen if that was more Rivers than the offensive line, but considering many of the Rams rookie lineman have been playing the majority of the preseason, LA has to be at least slightly encouraged by their oline depth.

As it sits right now, left tackle looks to be locked up by AJ Jackson, especially with Joe Noteboom out with an injury, I just see no scenario where Noteboom wins that job back before week one. Rookie guard Steve Avila has looked as advertised and will be on the starting line along with right tackle, veteran Rob Havenstein.

Where the Rams still have the most questions is at the center and right guard positions. Unfortunately, both players in the running for starting center, Brian Allen and Coleman Shelton, have not played one snap in preseason, so it’s hard to gauge where that battle sits. It’s worth noting that Shelton has been getting most of the first team reps in practice and looks to have so far won the job.

Right guard is a place we may get some clarity on in Saturday’s game. Tremayne Anchrum Jr. has looked great at right guard, allowing no pressures throughout the entire preseason according to PFF. While head coach Sean McVay has stated he believes that Noteboom is one of the Rams “top five offensive linemen”, it’s hard to make an argument that he should be playing over Anchrum Jr. at this stage of the offseason, especially if Anchrum Jr. continues his good play in Denver.

While it has not been said outright, I think there is a real chance the Rams could cut or trade Noteboom to eat his dead money this year, and get out from what has looked like a terrible 2022 contract extension.

Anchrum Jr.’s emergence also spells danger for Logan Bruss, who has already been moved from right guard to right tackle. Bruss has looked very inconsistent in preseason, while rookie tackles, Zachary Thomas and Warren McClendon, have looked much more solid. Bruss will need to have a great game against Denver or truly risk being a camp casualty only a year removed from being a 3rd round pick.

Special teams kick coverage

Los Angeles’ punt coverage has been another rough area through the first two preseason games, with rookie punter Ethan Evans only having a 36.5 yards average per punt. This is an interesting stat though, considering that Evans himself is actually averaging around 53.35 yards per punt with four inside the 20. So why such a disparity between Evans punt yardage vs. where the returner is actually tackled?

Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The answer can be found in how Evans has been punting the ball. While the rookie has an undeniably powerful boot, unfortunately, he has been hitting the ball on a line drive with little hang time, and because of this, the special teams unit can’t get down the field fast enough, allowing the returner to get 5-10 yards up the field before being engaged.

I believe this is something that can be fixed quickly with some more loft on punts, as well as some continuity on the punt coverage team. It will be interesting to see if Evans adjusts his punting in game three to allow more time to cover or if the Rams potentially try someone else at the gunner positions with more speed.

Stetson Bennett can lock up the backup QB job

Stetson Bennett has been fun to watch through the first two preseason games, especially since LA hasn’t had a developmental quarterback in a few years. He played arguably better in his first outing against the Chargers, throwing a touchdown pass and 191 yards, while struggling a bit in the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The rookie QB responded well to the adversity as the game went on though. After throwing a pick on a miscommunication with his receiver, Bennett recovered to drive the Rams down the field, calling his own number for his first NFL rushing touchdown and finishing with 142 passing yards in the game.

LA has been giving Bennett more opportunities to show why he deserves the job, letting him play late into the 3rd quarter in Vegas. QB Brett Rypien came in for the fourth quarter, only to attempt four passes total in the game. If Rypien has any chance of beating Bennett for the backup position, he will need to have a monster showing against Denver. Question is if the Rams will allow him the chance. With Rypien, the offense has looked very stagnant and his lack of running ability may be a contributing factor to his lack of success.

With the Rams offensive line not playing as well as many hoped, Bennett’s mobility has become a major plus in the quarterback race. For whatever rookie mistakes Bennett has made, he’s able to move the pocket when it breaks down and it’s hard to argue that the offense doesn’t look much more explosive, and frankly fun, with him behind center.

Can the Rams fix their edge pressure?

Los Angeles has struggled to get pressure against the run this far into the preseason, which does not bode well for the defense, considering this was an issue throughout all of last season. The team has allowed 312 yards rushing, including three touchdowns on the ground, in just two games. This is not going to get it done in a division with Christian McCaffery and Kenneth Walker.

Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Los Angeles Rams 34-17 during a NFL pre-season football game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Unfortunately rookie camp stand out, Kobie Turner, has been relatively quiet through the preseason and expected outside linebacker starter, Michael Hoecht, has not instilled much confidence that he can replicate his performance from the end of last season.

There is one bright spot at edge rusher though, and it is second year linebacker, Keir Thomas, out of Florida State. Thomas has had five solo tackles and a sack through the first two preseason games. He has stood out on defense and may have played himself into a potential rotational role along the line.

Getting Aaron Donald back will be a huge help this season, and should soak up some of the double teams, but it can’t all just be on 99 if the Rams have any hope to improve on their defensive line play.