After Sean McVay basically set the “model” for how many teams operate in the preseason now, sitting not only starters but also key role players and reserves for the entire exhibition slate, the Los Angeles Rams will no longer have that luxury in 2023. Though we will not see the likes of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Rob Havenstein, or Tyler Higbee, it sounds like most of the depth chart will have to compete in the preseason.
Before McVay himself has addressed who will sit and who will play in the preseason, which starts next week against the L.A. Chargers, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur alluded to it after practice on Thursday. And then Les Snead, in an interview with The Doug Gottlieb Show from Rams training camp at UC-Irvine, reiterated that this year isn’t like past year’s.
Especially on defense, where basically everyone other than Donald will have to earn a job.
Here’s the key part of what Snead had to say about the preseason:
“Gottlieb: It also changes though, your preseason plan for the games, right? Because Sean has always (unintelligible) my starters, but there’s so many young guys fighting for spots. Doesn’t that change who you’re playing when you play preseason?
Snead: It will not be like year’s past but it will be like year’s past. And I know (McVay) had some names you know, like, because we do have players like Rob Havenstein, Tyler Higbee, some players that have been here since our first Super Bowl into the second Super Bowl. So the team does have some core veterans that will, uh, let’s call it the “non-preseason-play treatment”. But there is an element of trying to engineer as competent a collective as possible and because we mentioned we’re gonna—Let’s talk the defensive side of the ball: There’s a lot of players on their rookie contracts on that side of the ball, other than Aaron Donald, and so we’re gonna need those guys to gel during the preseason.”
We know that Donald won’t play in the preseason, but who doesn’t need to “gel” on defense? Jordan Fuller missed all but three games in 2022. Ernest Jones wasn’t a full time player in 2022, he saw fewer and fewer snaps as the season went on and now he’s taking over Bobby Wagner’s role as the main “green dot” player. Bobby Brown III, Michael Hoecht, Christian Rozeboom, Marquise Copeland, Jonah Williams, Earnest Jones, Derion Kendrick, Cobie Durant...they all need to be ready for new and more important roles in 2023 than they’ve ever had before.
Even the second-most veteran player, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, was one of the most recent signings by the Rams and will need to prove himself in the role as a starting cornerback. How can the new starters in the secondary prepared for the season without Witherspoon?
In season’s past, we would get to this point in the year and McVay would even sit players who normally you would think need the experience. First-time starters or guys who had not played that well in previous season’s such as Tutu Atwell, Nick Scott, Taylor Rapp, Troy Reeder, Kenny Young, Micah Kiser, Greg Gaines, as some examples. It seemed McVay’s only real goal was to make sure that any key player wouldn’t get hurt before the games counted.
Yet the Rams have had a lot of players get hurt in the last couple of seasons when the games did matter. Did resting starters in the 2022 preseason prevent L.A. from losing a new offensive lineman every week? Or Kupp, Donald, and Stafford?
Players get injured, it’s inevitable. The Rams did win the Super Bowl in 2021 and resting starters in the preseason could be framed as a good move in that context.
However, whether it was the right thing to do or just a thing to do, it doesn’t matter this year. There’s no debate: The Rams can’t rest most of their starters.
They don’t know who most of their starters are going to be.