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How much should the Rams play their starters in the preseason

Should the Rams play their starters in the preseason?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams have created a lot of controversy with not playing their starters in the preseason throughout the Sean McVay era. For the most part, this approach had worked as the team was able to stay healthy for Week 1. However, after losing 31-10 to the Buffalo Bills last season, the critics became especially noisy.

When all is said and done, the preseason doesn’t matter. The Rams went 0-3 in the 2021 preseason and went on to win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions infamously went undefeated in the preseason and went on to not win another game, finishing 0-16.

With a younger roster, it’s fair to wonder if the Rams will change their approach. Les Snead touched on this a little bit this week saying,

“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”.

The typical approach to the preseason is to only play starters for a series or two in the first preseason game. In that second preseason game, teams will sometimes play their starters deep into the first half. The final game has usually been left to reserve players battling for roster spots.

It seems like the Rams will change their approach a little bit, but how much? Who is on that “non-preseason-play treatment” list that Snead is referring to?

For the preseason, it doesn’t make sense to play star players like Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Cooper Kupp even if it is only for a series or two. Too many teams lose starters in the preseason to injury. The Rams experienced this with Sam Bradford in 2014. There’s a line at getting players game experience, but not putting yourself at risk to end your season before it even starts.

With the depth at some positions, you could argue that on offense, Cam Akers and Van Jefferson shouldn’t play along with Tyler Higbee. Depending on how he looks in training camp and joint practices, the Rams should consider not playing Steve Avila or whoever the starting left tackle ends up being whether that’s Joe Noteboom or Alaric Jackson.

While Snead mentioned that defensive starters could be play more so that they can gel together, there will obviously be exceptions outside of Donald. Ernest Jones probably shouldn’t play as well as Ahkello Witherspoon, Cobie Durant and Jordan Fuller. Those are four of the most important players on the Rams defense heading into the season.

Here's a quick shortlist of players who absolutely should not see the field in the preseason:

  • QB: Matthew Stafford
  • WR: Cooper Kupp
  • WR: Van Jefferson
  • TE: Tyler Higbee
  • LG: Steve Avila
  • LT: Joe Noteboom/Alaric Jackson
  • C: Brian Allen/Coleman Shelton
  • RT: Rob Havenstein
  • DL: Aaron Donald
  • LB: Ernest Jones
  • CB: Cobie Durant
  • CB: Ahkello Witherspoon
  • S: Jordan Fuller

You could argue limited roles for players like TuTu Atwell, Puka Nacua, Brycen Hopkins, the starting offensive line, and others.

Preseason games can be beneficial to teams, but they are only a small part of the process. Coaches can still get a lot from practice film and joint practices where they can create their own situations and control the environment. The preseason is the most beneficial for players on the roster bubble so that they can put out tape for other teams if they end up getting cut.

As Snead said, things might look a little different this preseason than they have in the past, as the Rams look to get some young players game experience. However, when it comes to veterans, important players, and positions where the Rams lack some depth, don’t expect those players to play.

In all likelihood, we’ll see Stetson Bennett and Brett Rypien split reps at quarterback and throw to TuTu Atwell, DeMarcus Robinson, and Tyler Johnson as their top targets. On defense, the Rams will be looking to get reps to guys like Kobie Turner, Christian Rozeboom and Jake Hummel, as well as the young safeties.

The Rams have taken a smart approach to the preseason during the McVay era and that won’t change even in a year that feels different.