A Narrative Take On Rams And Chargers Joint Practice
8:30 AM. Beep. Beep. Beep.
8:40 AM. Beep. Beep.
8:50 AM. Beep.
The battleground? Bren Events Center, University of California, Irvine.
After I had collected myself, showered, got dressed, etc., I prepared everything for the journey ahead. Canon EOS 5D Camera. Check. Canon EF 24-70mm lens. Check. MacBook. Check. 2 XLR Mics. Check. XLR Cables. Check. PreSonus Studio 24c. Check. iPhone. Check. Sunscreen. Check check!
I depart my home, bound for the OC, and stumble upon the only thing more LA than celebrities and beaches, traffic.
I begrudged through the confines of the dreaded 5 freeway, much like the Rams Week 14 slugfest in Chicago, only I came out victorious.
Broken but not defeated, my jalopy wheezed onto the UC Irvine Campus and pulled effervescently into the media parking lot.
12:00 PM. Go time.
After collecting my belongings and essentials, I began the excursion to the media tent, conveniently located across campus and on the other side of the playing fields.
1:00 PM. After checking in with my colleague, and exchanging pleasantries with a few familiar faces, we made our way onto the field.
This doesn’t feel like any other practice. The intensity is real. The fans and the environment are electric. You can just feel that this is going to be a special day.
1:55 PM. The players begin making their way onto the field.
Todd Gurley trots through a wave of fans to the serenade of “Happy Birthday.” The best running back in the NFL is 25 today.
The announcement of Aaron Donald and his status as the Number 1 player in the NFL is met with thunderous applause, resembling a Gladiator entering the hallowed Roman Coliseum.
Now with the entrances and introductions out of the way, it was time to ball. Time to prove who is the team in LA. Time to prove that their will be no Super Bowl hangover. Time to prove that you can improve, play by play. Time to go to work.
7-On-7 Rams Defense Vs Chargers Offense
Overall, I thought that the Rams back 7 looked very strong during this drill. Rivers and Co were able to complete some intermediate passes, and swing routes, which is expected with no line pressure, but Talib, Peters, Weddle, Johnson, and Littleton, etc., definitely held there own and then some.
It is very easy to see the experience and football IQ that Eric Weddle brings to this secondary. He is a coach on the field and brings a level of expertise that cannot be taught. As good as Lamarcus Joyner was at times last year, Weddle is an upgrade, in pretty much every facet.
I also can’t speak enough on Cory Littleton. Talib and Peters will always get their credit, and rightfully so, but Littleton stormed onto the scene last year as a legitimate inside linebacker, and he is out to prove that it was not just a one-year fluke.
He was flying around in the 7-on-7 drill making his presence felt. Melvin Gordon was still a no-show as he holds out for a new contract, so there was a drop-off in RB talent, but Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will be asked to carry the torch and put out production. Littleton made sure that Chargers GM, Tom Telesco, will think long and hard on whether or not to give in to Gordon’s demands.
While both LA units showed flashes, the Rams unit demonstrated more positive plays.
11-On-11 Rams Defense Vs Chargers Offense
7-on-7 wrapped up and the teams immediately brought in the big boys to showcase 11-on-11. Here is where the fun began. This felt like a real game atmosphere, one in which Jared Goff and Rivers were both quoted after the practice saying that this “practice” was way more beneficial than any preseason game.
Who is the player that most stood out to me?
That’s an easy one, and any reporter there should have the same answer. Dante Fowler.
Fowler looked strong, quick, and was disruptive on just about every play. Getting to Rivers on passing downs, setting the edge on running plays, and containing swing and screen passes.
The defensive line as a unit looked really formidable. Aaron Donald is, well, the number 1 player in the NFL, so let’s move on. Michael Brockers looks to be in the best shape of his career and showed some good pass rush moves in limited action. Sebastian Joseph-Day ran with the 1’s (currently listed as the starting NT on the Rams unofficial depth chart) and looked like a good fit. He will continue to battle with 2019 4th-round pick Greg Gaines, but for now, he has the edge.
But going back to Fowler, it would not at all shock me if he has the best year of his career in 2019.
Rams First Team Offense
The Rams offense started off slow. Not looking like their normal dominant selves. Take nothing away from the Gus Bradley-led Chargers defense, who quite possibly will be a top 5 defense this season, but the Rams just looked out of sync, sluggish, off.
When the first set of team drills finished, you could see the frustration on Sean McVay‘s face, as well as Jared Goff’s. It was not to the standard that they hold themselves too.
When the second session began, motivation set in.
Hut. Hut. Check with me. Hut.
Hut. Hut. Hut.
Perhaps the greatest elation of the session came on a play that in a real game situation may have resulted in a sack. Jared Goff stood tall in the pocket before rolling out a bit to his left. With a defender right in his face, (again, probably would have been a sack if the defender was at full speed and hitting the quarterback wasn’t heresy) Goff hurled it 40+ yards on a rope to a wide-open Robert Woods streaking down the middle of the field 5 yards past the nearest defender. Rams fans went nuts and hope was restored in the much-maligned offense of 40 minutes prior.
If you have listened to our podcast, Bleav In LA Football, you know that I have been pounding the table for one Rams player in particular. Well, he got plenty of work, was targeted numerous times, and overall looked very sharp.
Gerald Everett is someone that needs to live up to his expectation after being drafted in the 2nd round. His athleticism is unquestioned. His hands and catching ability are above average. His speed is one of the best among tight ends. Where the questions arise are if he can play all three downs and if he is truly an in-line tight end or just a big receiver used on the outside.
Whatever the case may be, Everett will certainly be used in the red zone and should be a touchdown machine. During the red zone drill, it seemed like he was targeted on just about every snap. The preseason is a time to be bold, and it would not surprise me if Gerald Everett led all Rams receivers in touchdowns in 2019.
Rams Offensive Line Depth
Real-life isn’t all candy canes and rainbows. There is bound to be some negatives. Currently speaking, for the Rams, that negative is their offensive line depth. I’ll try and put it nicely. Blake Bortles may have had more time with a sled in front of him.
Now let’s get back to realistic expectations. Transitioning from college football is hard, extremely hard. Especially with how college offensive schemes are nowadays. The Rams drafted two tackles in this year’s draft. Bobby Evans out of Oklahoma and David Edwards out of Wisconsin.
Oklahoma runs an Air Raid style offensive scheme where the quarterback gets the ball out of his hands rather quickly. Even still, Evans struggled against fast outside edge rushers. Welcome to the NFL where all edge rushers are blazing fast. This showed in the team session as Evans was burnt around the edge multiple times.
David Edwards comes from a program in Wisconsin that is known for its running game and producing tremendously productive running backs. So it is not shocking to expect him to be a better run blocker than pass blocker. Not to mention, Edwards started his playing career as a quarterback, then transitioned to tight end, and then found a home as a tackle. So he is still very young in terms of positional knowledge. The talent and size are there, but from what I saw on Saturday, it would be unfair to throw him into a starting role on Sundays if Whitworth or Havenstein were injured.
Both guys are rookies, and so growing pains are absolutely expected, but the amount that they struggled against the Chargers 2s an 3s is just a tad bit concerning. Plenty of time to improve however.
The cloud cover that had blessed the field for most of the day was now gone. My once sun-kissed head was now fully being made-out with and was in desperate need of shade.
The players and coaches had finished their media interviews, all citing that it had been a great day for both teams. Productive. Informative. And most importantly, primarily healthy.
After a few more media pleasantries, a few fist bumps with players of past interviews, a brief conversation with Greg Zuerlein, and a Forrest Gump inside joke reference, it was time to exit the field and head home.
4:30 PM. After making the trek back through campus, I find my jalopy nestled under an oak tree. From humble beginnings to humble endings, today had been a great day, for the Rams and for myself.