Los Angeles Rams: 10 Observations from Preseason Week One

by Jake Ellenbogen
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The Los Angeles Rams only put up three points in their preseason-opening loss to the Oakland Raiders. Even still, I am able to say there are ten observations I made following the game. In this piece, I’ll talk about ten things that stood out live and in my rewatch session for the Rams.

10. The deeper portion of the depth chart is going to change drastically before the start of the season.

Is it fair to judge that many players after the first preseason game of the year? Probably not, however, for some players, this isn’t their first rodeo. Rams quarterback Brandon Allen and defensive lineman Tanzel Smart are the first that come to mind. Allen struggled and that is simply putting it lightly. Allen finished with a 40.7 overall Pro Football Focus grade after completing just six of his 12 passes for 34 yards. He showed zero improvements from last year.

As for Smart, PFF graded him with a 67.5 overall which is simply not what I saw out on the field. Smart looked lost in preseason last year and made the roster but this year I felt as though he followed the same suit. The problem for players like Smart going into year three, they have to be winning their one-on-one preseason matchups. Smart simply isn’t.

There are other guys that we will get to later in this piece that simply did more and the stock should go way up for them.

9. The running game unlike most of the previous preseason games…was non-existent.

The Los Angeles Rams running game in total accumulated for 57 yards on 22 carries which came out to be an average of 2.2 yards per carry. It certainly wasn’t the performance the Rams nor the coaches would have wanted from this unit. The offensive line wasn’t great (and we will get to them in a minute) but the longest run of the day came from John Wolford, the quarterback.

As for literally being non-existent, last year’s active roster member Justin Davis saw zero carries in the preseason opener. One should start wondering whether or not Davis is still in the Rams plans moving forward

8. Darrell Henderson couldn’t get anything going on the ground but he wowed in pass protection.

Six carries for 13 yards while making a grab for negative five? That was Henderson’s day as the stat sheet showed but did you happen to see what the third-round pick did in pass protection? Henderson took on the challenge and looked very comfortable protecting the quarterback, he made a great blitz pickup early in the game and in five pass protection reps, he allowed zero pressures. What’s the biggest key to getting on the field for a running back? Probably the right answer is producing in the run game or pass game. However, if you want to stay on the field, you need to be a factor in pass protection. Henderson flashed a serious ability to do that moving forward.

7. The offensive line backups are a work in progress.

It was fun watching coach Aaron Kromer alternate players like David Edwards, Bobby Evans and Jamil Demby all over the field. This unit clearly isn’t ready for a regular-season start though. That’s okay, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t critique this unit. Sean McVay opted to hold out the two starting offensive linemen Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom in this contest. They instead gave plenty of those reps to Bobby Evans, Jamil Demby, Aaron Neary, and Jeremiah Kolone. Evans allowed a game-high two pressures and a sack. Edwards and Demby each was penalized twice in this one. Overall, a shaky performance, however, it would be interesting to see how these guys would have done with Noteboom and Allen in there though.

6. Special Teams wasn’t pretty but Coach Bones might have some new go-to guys on the unit.

It’s one preseason game I know. However, John Kelly looked very good on special teams. We mentioned above how Henderson found other ways to impress on the field, well Kelly did the same in a very important role as well. David Long, the rookie also did a stellar job in special teams and mainly the punt coverage. Natrez Patrick and Steven Parker looked very solid for the unit as well. The biggest takeaway from special teams was N’Simba Webster who looked very solid as a gunner but showed ability in the return game. Webster definitely saw his stock rose after this game.

It’s too important to perform on special teams because this is your opportunity to win over a coach like John Fassel who has been in the building a long time. I would imagine Fassel has some pull and you would definitely want him pounding the table for your name to stick onto the roster.

5. The Rams pulled their backup QB Blake Bortles way too quickly and in turn, it disrupted the offense for almost the entire game.

This isn’t to pile on the Los Angeles Rams backup signal-caller but Brandon Allen didn’t play well at all. The issue with that is now the Rams have a harder time being able to evaluate players. For instance, players like Alex Bachman were unable to get much of anything going when Allen was in but as soon as John Wolford came in he got going in the passing game a little bit. When Blake Bortles was in you saw the Rams offense moving the ball down the field. Bortles did not even play the full first quarter. Once he was out the production was gone.

The Rams need to do a better job of giving out these valuable reps to players that earn them. I can’t blame the Rams rolling with Allen as the backup last night but I can blame them if they decide to give him the same workload next week.

4. KhaDarel Hodge is a lock to make the 53-man roster and is the odds on favorite to be WR5.

KhaDarel Hodge suited up for the Super Bowl last year and it seemed as though some were sour on him entering 2019 training camp. I’m not really sure as to why. The Prairie View A&M product looked like the best receiver on the field last night. He’s continued to make an impact on special teams and was rated one of the top performers of the game by PFF. Hodge’s competition appears to be Mike Thomas who caught one pass for 12 yards in his only target.

Hodge is actually good at playing wide receiver. Last year versus the Raiders he made an outstanding diving grab near the sidelines. This year, he caught three passes for 48 yards and did a nice job of getting open consistently for his quarterback. Hodge is good enough at this point to think if any of the four-headed monster receiver core gets hurt, he can step in and make an impact with the first-team offense.

3. Landis Durham was a surprise starter last night and he made the most of his opportunity.

Landis Durham is the undrafted rookie free agent out of Texas A&M that no one for whatever reason was talking about. Durham made the most of a surprising start by the Los Angeles Rams as he logged three tackles, a pressure, and a sack in 49 snaps. Durham really put the pressure on the likes of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who didn’t suit up. With Durham getting the start and playing as well as he did, the injury to Justin Lawler might benefit him more than anyone.

2. Taylor Rapp will be a key cog in the Wade Phillips defense this year and beyond.

I was unsure why the Los Angeles Rams chose Taylor Rapp over players like Nasir Adderley and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the draft. I may never understand it in regards to my draft board but clearly, the Rams have a plan for Rapp this season and beyond. Rapp was great in coverage and he made a great pass breakup in this game. He isn’t someone that will roam all over the field but he has sneaky athleticism and plays around the line of scrimmage extremely well. Rapp could definitely end up being the one that replaces Mark Barron as odd as that sounds. The Rams can really use him however, they would like to.

1. The Wake Forest Trio, N’Simba Webster, Keenen Brown, Vitas Hrynkiewicz, Natrez Patrick, Greg Gaines and Donte Deayon need to see more playing time next week.

Wake Forest Trio

The most painful thing of any preseason game is when you watch the guys that are getting snaps in the second and third look lost compared to the guys in the fourth quarter. That happened last night. Allen looked lost but AAF star quarterback John Wolford did not. Wolford went six of eight for 54 yards and added 12 yards on the ground. He breathed life back into an offense that was stifled 85 percent of the game.

The other Wake Forest product Matt Colburn flashed a tad as he broke free and gained a tough first down. The Rams really didn’t have a fun time running the football but it will be interesting to see Colburn play more as the preseason rolls along. The last of the Wake Forest trio was Alex Bachman who made a huge catch on a quarterback rollout from Wolford. Hopefully, the Los Angeles Rams will give those three more of a shot next week.

Rest of the Offense

As for the rest of the gang. N’Simba Webster proved himself on special teams and in the return game but the Eastern Washington product showed up in the passing game. It came late in the contest because the Rams didn’t let him roll until the end of the game. Webster came down with a great catch near the sidelines that was one of the game’s only true highlights on the Rams offensive side of the ball. The former Texas State tight end Keenen Brown received only six snaps in this one. Hopefully, the talented receiving tight end will get more of a look next week. The same goes for Youngstown State product Vitas Hrynkiewicz who excelled in his very limited number of snaps.

Rest of the Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, Natrez Patrick of Georgia received an elite grade from PFF and should receive more than 24 snaps moving forward. The fourth-round pick Greg Gaines outshined Sebastian Joseph-Day big time but only received 18 snaps. For all of that buzz we heard in camp, Joseph-Day was less than impressive, to say the least. Lastly, on defense, I want to see more snaps coming Donte Deayon’s way. Deayon finished with a solid grade by PFF but his job in coverage was even more solid. Just because he didn’t come down with either of the two interceptions, doesn’t mean he wasn’t making plays. Sometimes, it’s better when your name is not called. Deayon received 41 snaps which is a lot but I’d like him to start the game next time instead of Dominique Hatfield who struggled mightily.

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