It’s late July and that means the city of Irvine is currently awash in blue and gold because training camp is here! Finally football, real actual football is right around the corner. The Rams come into camp as the defending NFC champions and are trying to avoid a Homer Simpson level hangover after a disastrous Super Bowl appearance. They still have a lot of the same pieces intact to make another run but they have a few questions to answer if they’re to be more than a conference champion. It’s not the ones everyone is asking though.
The big questions have little to do with Todd Gurley‘s knee or whether Jared Goff will get PAID. Those are important questions in their own right but they have pretty easy answers. Gurley will be fine because the recently extended Les Snead invested in having depth in the backfield. The Goff question has an answer too but it’s one that’ll get answered after next year because he still has to play out his fifth-year option. No, the biggest questions the Rams have to answer this training camp come on defense and in the trenches on offense.
What Does The Pass Rush Rotation Look Like?
Last season saw a lot of inconsistency on the front seven. They had a lot of trouble against the run and that’s something they need to fix. Their division has gotten better and their schedule tougher. Fortunately, they only lost Ndamukong Suh over the offseason and in his place are a young group of rushers that all have the chance to break out this year.
Rookie fourth-rounder Greg Gaines showed up to training camp with a lot more muscle than he had on draft day. He should get a ton of reps up front with Michael Brockers and king of the monsters, Aaron Donald. That’s likely to be the starting line up but there’s a chance that John Franklin-Myers and Morgan Fox become heavily involved as well.
Franklin-Myers played well in spots including getting a sack in the Super Bowl. Fox missed all of last season due to injury but now the fourth-year defensive end can make an impact.
The linebacker position is of equal intrigue. Clay Matthews, Dante Fowler Jr, and Cory Littleton are the obvious starters but their success isn’t guaranteed. Matthews hasn’t exactly been made of adamantium while Fowler and Littleton don’t play with the kind of consistency a Wade Phillips defense requires. Both are in contract years and have all the motivation in the world to level up.
The last spot in the rotation could go to a few different people. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo missed all of last season with a foot injury but his athleticism could make him into the LA version of what Wade had with Shawne Merriman. Samson Ebukam had a moment or two last season as well but he remains a largely unknown quantity as are the other young guns on the roster such as; Justin Lawler, Trevon Young, and Micah Kiser. The point is while a lot of these players aren’t household names right now, this camp could go a long way towards making them one. Wade Phillips has plenty of raw talent and if he can figure out the right mix then the defense could be the dominant unit it was meant to be last year.
Can Marcus Peters Get His Groove Back?
One of the biggest topics amongst fans was how badly Marcus Peters seemed to get burnt on a weekly basis. Some of that is due to the fact he was playing out of position last year when Aqib Talib went down with an ankle injury but that doesn’t excuse everything. Weirdly, he’s the weak link in that secondary but here we are.
Peters is in a contract year and the Rams are dying to make him one of the highest-paid corners this season. If he keeps getting roasted Jeff Ross style that’s not going to happen. He needs a full training camp and a healthy Talib to get back to being what he was in Kansas City. The Rams survived despite him being covered in butter last year but that won’t fly again.
Luckily for him, he won’t be on an island. He has the support of a terrific safety tandem in old man Eric Weddle and emerging stud John Johnson. The secondary will need a boost from “Slot God” Nickell Robey-Coleman and the much-maligned Troy Hill.
Is This The Year The Tight Ends Get Unleashed?
It’s odd that Sean McVay built his early offensive resume running a lot of double tight end packages in Washington, yet when he got to LA he hasn’t implemented it. It might be due to the fact he hasn’t had a Jordan Reed to utilize but he has had talent at the position.
Tyler Higbee is a solid blocker and can move the chains like a poor man’s Heath Miller. Gerald Everett is super athletic but the word on the street is he has trouble with his route running and that kept him from being a focal point in the offense.
This might be the year though where McVay has to go back to his roots. His offense got exposed to a degree once Cooper Kupp tore his ACL. He needed that one guy to stretch the field enough to allow everyone else to succeed. That especially manifested itself in the Super Bowl. McVay needs to add enough wrinkles in his offense so that the rest of the league doesn’t pass him by. He already has enough of his disciples and wannabees coaching teams so he’s no longer an anomaly.
Unleashing his tight ends will help out Goff a great deal as well. He still needs to get better at making plays when his first option is taken away and having two tight ends that catch deep will give him the Linus van Pelt level security blanket he’s never had.
Training camp might not provide complete answers to these questions but they should at least give fans a sense of whether or not the Rams window is still wide open.