Now that Week 2 of the Los Angeles Rams training camp is in the books, camp battles are heating up and the young L.A. defense is offering glimpses of improvement, particularly against the pass. The week started with the Rams concentrating on the run game (or rather, defending it), graduating as the days went by to attempting to force turnovers in four-minute scenario’s and finishing up with work on two-minute defense drills.
Early on, the defense was ahead of the offense
Not a lot should be made of it this early in camp, but still, it’s a good sign that the youngsters are holding their own. The media narrative has been thunderous in its unison that because of their overall inexperience and lack of draft pedigree, the defensive unit will be one of the worst in the NFL.
Sean McVay pointed out the defense’s early camp success and the influence Aaron Donald has on it in a August 1 press conference.
“... I felt the defense did a good job of really setting the tone at the beginning... the defense did a good job at attacking at the football.
... he’s (Donald) that good that I think most teams, every week, the first thing the talk about is,.. find 99. Make sure that you have an answer for him... that’s who he is, the great ones never get complacent... Nobody has higher standards for Aaron than he does for himself... (he needs to) also understand the power of your influence by the way you bring it in every single thing that you do...”
Not all the defensive news is good. It appears from clips that the defense is having a tough time handling the run game. There could a bunch of different reasons for this, but size on the defensive line and inexperience on the edge are two areas where the Rams have been lacking all offseason.
Week 2 standouts
Aside from Donald, who received double and triple team blocking in practice sessions, the young secondary is showing signs of being able to make plays. DeCobie Durant patrolled his zone areas and showed he can read and react to the ball in the air, slide off one receiver, and rotate to anther to make the play. Quentin Lake has been playing both the strong and free safety roles, as well as in Dime linebacker situations.
Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake are getting into a groove with each other in the secondary. I asked DC Raheem Morris about Lake moving around a lot in camp and he confirmed he’s working on both safety spots, and dime linebacker.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 4, 2023
In fact, the safety unit as a whole has been consistently stout, with both McVay and Raheem Morris singling out their solid play. This group, as a whole, has been breaking up passes and forcing turnovers by ripping balls loose and making interceptions.
Some optimism should be had in the young secondary overall, most every player has flashed athletic break ups or interceptions. Even with “full contact” practice, quarterbacks are given a wide cushion from the defensive pass rush. Even when the pass rush quickly breaks through, they let up lets up and QB’s get more time to complete passes
Injury woes being held at bay
Aches and pains are part of camp as players strap on the pads and knock the dust off the offseason, but injuries can often be the deciding factor in who makes the roster and who doesn’t. The injury circumstance is magnified the deeper into the roster you go. Although the Rams haven’t yet had major injuries, a couple of minor/mid grade problems have reared their head.
Rookie edge Edge Ochaun Mathis’ chances to make the opening roster took a major downturn with a knee injury. He is expected to miss a couple of weeks. The Round 6 pick out of Nebraska was part of a wide-open edge competition looking to fill two starting roles.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick has been out, dealing with a hamstring problem and listed as day-to-day. With the secondary showing well so far, Kendrick has to be getting tense and itchy watching from the sidelines.
Early depth chart projection
The Rams are still rotating in all defensive positional units, so this first projection will be based on player groupings from twitter video clips and “shout outs” by beat reporters covering the team. Predominant first teams are in bold and the depth chart goes on from there, as best as can be determined.
Defensive Line - Aaron Donald, Bobby Brown, Kobie Turner, Jonah Williams, Larrell Murchison, Marquise Copeland, Earnest Brown, Desjuan Johnson, TJ Carter, and Taron Vincent
A pair of the best videos of the week starred rookie guard Steve Avila. On one, he is really dominating Copeland in a scrimmage drill and the veteran defensive lineman starts getting chippy after the play. Avila laughs at him and tells him he’s just playing football and not to be mad. Another one is Avila letting his base get narrow and Kobie Turner tossing him aside like a rag doll. Both scenarios are in longer videos and I don’t know how to isolate them to share with readers.
Edge- Michael Hoecht, Daniel Hardy/Byron Young, Keir Thomas, Nick Hampton, Zach VanValkenburg, Ochaun Mathis
Lot of different combinations being looked at, but there are some patterns beginning to show. Right now, it appears that the speed/power combinations could be Hardy/Hoecht, Young/Thomas, and Hampton/ValValkenburg.
Offball linebacker- Ernest Jones, Christian Rozeboom/Jake Hummel Ryan Smenda, Kelechie Anyalebechie, Ryan Smenda, DeAndre Square, Jaiden Woodbey
It’s obvious the Rams (and media) are expecting Ernest Jones to be a huge part of the defense. He’s constantly mic’d up, on post-practice interviews, and shown love by coaches. Rozeboom is reportedly playing well and flying all over the field, although rotating with Jake Hummel.
Safety- Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast, Quentin Lake, Jason Taylor, Rashad Torrence, Taylor Ingle, Richard LeCounte
Saw a drill with safeties flipping open their hips, turning, and running as if in 1x1 coverage, Fuller was step behind the others from the get-go. Fuller will have his hands full fighting off a light-footed, ball-hawking group of youngsters.
Cornerback- Ahkello Witherspoon, Robert Rochell, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Timarcus Davis, Tiyon Davis, Cam McCutcheon, Jordan Jones, Derion Kendrick, and Vincent Gray
WR#2 Van Jefferson has been consistently getting behind the defense, so whoever covers him has had their hands full, Vincent Gray appears to be a main victim on deep throws. Timarcus Davis has worked himself into a few first team reps. On punts, it’s been Robert Rochell and Timarcus Davis as gunners.
Star- DeCobie Durant and Shaun Jolly
Hodges-Tomlinson has also been getting work in the slot, although I have found no official word that he is being considered for a “Star” role. Durant has been very tough in coverage. and was named by Brian Baldinger as one of the Top 10 cornerbacks to break out in 2023.
No context name-dropping from Rams Camp (numerical order): Young, Fuller, Tomlinson, Van, Robinson, Puca, Jolly, Kyren, Hardy, Shelton, Avila, Anchrum, Noteboom, Hopkins, Turner.— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) July 30, 2023
Two weeks until opening night at SoFi.
Preseason games start Saturday, what to expect
As part of the the youth movement, particularly on defense, expect Sean McVay to break from his norm of sitting all the key starters and backups. There are just too many positional battles not to look at all possible groupings. General Manager Les Snead divulged this in an interview on The Doug Gottlieb Show.
“So the team does have, Snead said, “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... 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.”
SoFi Stadium will host as the Rams open preseason play against their roomies, the Los Angeles Chargers, on Saturday August 12 at 6 p.m.