Los Angeles Rams: 10 Observations from Preseason Week Two

Los Angeles Rams OLB Natrez Patrick

TheRams.com / Jeff Lewis

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The Los Angeles Rams fell again in the preseason by the score of 14-10 to the Dallas Cowboys. Still, there are plenty of observations I made and here are the ten I narrowed it down to.

10. The Los Angeles Rams are deep at every position except surprisingly offensive line.

This might be a weird statement to make but when you look at the Los Angeles Rams roster they are extremely deep in all areas. You can look on offense and everything checks the box except offensive line. The defense? The biggest issue for the Rams is going to be who they can afford to cut and have a chance of keeping on their practice squad. Many teams in the league will be plucking guys right off the Rams roster that they fail to hang onto.

This brings me to my biggest area of concern, the offensive line. Aaron Kromer has done a phenomenal job since coming over from the Buffalo Bills. However, this year might be the toughest he will have to work. The Rams have a solid but unproven starting offensive line but the issue is the depth. I will be the first one to admit that I said this unit was as deep as ever, but in reality, I don’t know if it is…yet. The Rams drafted another third-round offensive tackle in Bobby Evans, fifth-round offensive tackle in David Edwards and have former sixth-round pick, Jamil Demby, back in his second year. Even so, this unit has struggled in the preseason.

It’s not to say none of these guys in the back end of the depth chart on offensive line can’t contribute ever. It’s more so worry about the here and now. It almost makes me wonder if the Rams would consider scouring the waiver wire after the final roster cuts are announced in hopes of bolstering their depth with veteran presences. The issue with these guys is simple. You have aging Andrew Whitworth and you have to play more than 16 games this season likely. There is a good chance the Rams will not have the same luck in regards to offensive line health as they did last year. If that is the case are you okay with Edwards, Evans or Demby starting in relief? If your answer is no, then your idea of having depth is flawed.

The Rams don’t have depth on the offensive line yet, they have potential, they have the talent and they have something to look forward to. However, in 2019, they better pray for another fairly healthy season if they want to survive.

9. I like the idea but Aaron Kromer’s rapid offensive line shuffling could be the reason for the struggling play early on.

It’s cool to be able to have your backups cross-train and play all five positions on the offensive line. However, it’s not ideal when these backups barely have experience in the NFL as it is. While players like Evans, Edwards, Chandler Brewer, Demby, Aaron Neary, and others continue to learn the ropes, they are being shuffled like a deck of cards all over the line. Edwards might start at left tackle but could find himself as a right guard by the end of the quarter. The same goes from Chandler Brewer who has arguably been the most impressive guard on the line this preseason. Brewer went from left guard to left tackle. Demby played nine snaps last night at left tackle, 19 at left guard and 22 at center. Evans played 41 snaps at right tackle and 27 at right guard.

Again, I like the idea but that snap ratio for Demby is insane. These guys can’t establish cohesion or gel at all when they are being moved all over the line and lining up against and alongside different players. I realize this creates stress and the Rams want to see how they operate under pressure but this might be too much pressure. It actually might be trickling down into the running game. It’s hard to run the football when there are no holes to be found. I’d like to see the Rams start with a lineup next of Edwards at left tackle, Brewer at left guard, Hrynkiewicz at center, Kolone at right guard and Evans at right tackle. I think by having those five in there for a full half you would get more consistent results. Then, you could maybe mix them up in the second half.

The Los Angeles Rams simply need to figure things out for their depth quick. Shuffling guys all over the field is going to impede their ability to develop at their primary position before they can focus on developing at their secondary one.

8. Running game looked a lot better. Darrell Henderson is going to have an Alvin Kamara-like role in the offense.

I’ve said it for a while that I believed Darrell Henderson, the rookie out of Memphis, was the best running back in the draft. He may not have exploded onto the scene last night but he flashed his big playmaking ability.

As Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio shows you, Henderson cannot be covered by the ultra-athletic linebacker Jaylon Smith on this play. He’s simply too fast which creates a mismatch and it’s basically at that point up to the safety to keep the play in front of him and prevent the touchdown. He does just that, but Henderson showcases exactly the type of weapon he’s going to be for Sean McVay‘s offense. This is a staple in the playbook for the New Orleans Saints the way they use Alvin Kamara as shown above.

The scariest thing about Henderson is how he cancels out guys like Smith (who the Rams play week 15), Deion Jones (who the Rams play week 7), Bobby Wagner (who the Rams play week 5 and 14) and Kwon Alexander (who the Rams play week 6 and 16) which really makes the Rams terrifying on this wheel route. With the addition of Henderson, the Rams are getting to close to having every single tool for the job in the toolbox. They are going to be pretty hard to stop especially if they go with a split-back formation with Todd Gurley and Henderson while having Henderson leak out for this type of wheel route.

7. John Kelly shouldn’t be forgotten about.

I have been hard on Kelly since he broke out last preseason and completely laid an egg during the regular season. Kelly and Justin Davis struggled so bad that the Los Angeles Rams went out and signed C.J. Anderson off the couch. While that worked out well for both parties, the real worry was how bad they played behind the offensive line of the year.

Kelly in year two looks just as good as last preseason. It’s still preseason but I still love the way Kelly navigates in between the tackles. He’s a talented running back and he is a nifty one at that. The problem with Kelly seems to be the long speed. He is not going to hit a home run and if he was he would be the returner but he is going to get you tough yards when it counts. Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart but the Rams could use Kelly on special teams at worst.

While everyone is making noise, Kelly appears to be being slept on a tad. I think he’s going to be just fine and he’s going to make the roster as the Rams keep four running backs. Brown could end up being a trade chip if the Rams like Kelly enough. Let’s not forget the Lions signed Brown to an offer sheet initially so there has been interest from other teams around the league.

6. All of the talk seems to be about Mike Thomas in the WR room making the team but when are we going to give N’Simba Webster his due?

N’Simba Webster was the highest-rated offensive player by Pro Football Focus this week and last week he was the third-highest. It’s time to start believing Webster can make this roster. He had four targets, four catches, and 38 yards. He didn’t blow up the stat sheet but when quarterbacks threw to him their passer rating was a 106.3. Webster has displayed his ability as a returner, as a receiver and as someone that can make plays after the catch. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with his ability to get open, redirect through traffic and fight for extra yards.

KhaDarel Hodge in my mind is still the favorite for the fifth spot but I think the Rams are way too deep at the receiver position to only keep five of them. Webster would be my sixth right now if I had to choose. When you are cutting down your roster you have to keep in mind the players that make the most sense. Those players are 100 percent going to be the ones that help in multiple areas of the game. Webster can help you in the return game, punt coverage and as an emergency receiver. JoJo Natson made some noise in the receiving game with his touchdown but his muffed punt further enforced the iffiness of keeping him as the returner in 2019.

5. Brandon Allen and John Wolford did 180s in this game.

The story of last week was how poorly Brandon Allen played and how great John Wolford looked. This week it was kind of a 180. Wolford didn’t look horrendous but he didn’t pop either. The Rams really couldn’t move the ball after Allen and Blake Bortles like they did last week with Wolford. You can blame the offensive line and honestly, the play-calling. I do believe as poorly as Wolford may have looked, a lot of the conservative play-calling played a role in his struggles.

Allen finished his day with 14 completions on 21 passes thrown for 115 yards and an interception. The interception wasn’t the best and he deserves some fault but tight end Kendall Blanton was expected to outmuscle the defensive back and make a play which he did not. All in all, Allen made a couple of huge plays and moved the football consistently downfield.

4. Micah Kiser went down with an injury which further enforces that Dakota Allen should be the leader in the clubhouse to start.

It’s a bummer anytime you see anyone in the preseason or regular season go down with an injury. Micah Kiser was the projected starting linebacker for the Rams alongside Cory Littleton but a recent pectoral injury last night might have ruined that. As for Dakota Allen, it put him right in the driver’s seat. He finished with five tackles which included a bone-crushing one while McVay was commentating from the sidelines. Allen has been my pick to start for the Rams since before the Kiser injury, many questioned his athleticism due to his testing but when you watched the film it was easy to see this guy played faster than he tested.

The Rams are going to need their guy to emerge and in the next-man-up world that is the NFL, Allen from Texas Tech is the next man up. Travin Howard had a solid showing, the seventh-rounder out of TCU and many would also point to veteran Bryce Hager. However, I felt as though Hager looked to be playing himself out of a role, Howard was solid but Allen truly wowed me. Allen made a huge play in the clip below.

3. The Los Angeles Rams defensive back room is loaded and they may have trade chips because of it.

Cornerbacks

It’s not going to be easy to decide who to keep from the cornerback room. It appears as though there are five locks and it’s up to the Los Angeles Rams whether they will keep another spot or maybe even seven. The only way a team can justify keeping seven corners is if one of them returns kicks and punts which has not happened in preseason. With that being said, losing Blake Countess left the Rams without a true backup nickel corner for Nickell Robey-Coleman and I definitely would make the argument for Donte Deayon in that role.

After that, you look at guys like Kevin Peterson who have been lights out in the preseason and have made plays in minimal regular-season opportunities. Troy Hill is probably a lock at this point due to the extension but you could make the argument Peterson is the better player and has outplayed Hill in the preseason before. Peterson is probably the favorite to make the roster if the Rams keep six cornerbacks.

Darious Williams is the young stud the Rams stole from the Baltimore Ravens. The former UAB corner has flashed in the preseason but not turning his head around last night and picking off that errant Dak Prescott pass still bothers me. Williams has left plays on the field but all in all, he’s been solid. If this room wasn’t so deep you could say he’s earned enough to stay on the roster. Potential practice squad spot incoming?

As for Ramon Richards and Dominique Hatfield, the Rams deployed Richards all over the field and he’s had a nice preseason thus far but Hatfield has struggled and is as this point the least appealing cornerback on the roster. It’s going to be very tough for him to make the roster even after he made the 53-man roster last year and the year prior.

With all of that said, the Rams have Deayon, Peterson, and Williams that they could potentially look to trade for a late-round draft pick if they deem any of them aren’t going to make the roster. Deayon displayed his ability to play the boundary as well last night with his interception on Mike White. Peterson has displayed plenty of talent in-game and Williams is the youngest of the bunch and has some good upside. We will certainly see but the Rams are extremely deep at the cornerback position.

 

Safeties

As for safeties, the Rams love Taylor Rapp obviously, they signed Eric Weddle to a two-year deal and John Johnson III is turning into a star. That leaves question marks left over. Marqui Christian played more snaps than ever last year and was a legit piece in Wade Phillips’ defense. I would be surprised if the Rams cut their losses on him. After Christian, it seems to me Steven Parker really couldn’t do much more to help his stock. He was the second-highest graded safety in preseason last year by Pro Football Focus and this year he’s continued his magnificent play. The former Sooner is making a statement to stick on this roster.

As for the rest of the position, Nick Scott hasn’t done anything note-worthy so it seems to me unless the staff loves him that much he will be a practice squad guy as someone that can add something to the scout team. Jake Gervase came up with the fumble recovery and has played well but he too is really at this point just a potential practice squad player.

If the Los Angeles Rams do not keep Marqui Christian or Steven Parker, I think you have two guys there that you could try trading. Christian especially but you aren’t going to be able to bring Parker back onto your practice squad without another team picking him up. I think they both make the roster but either way, the Rams have some trade ammo.

2. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo played in his first game and showed us all that he’s a lock to make the roster…as long as he stays healthy.

The talent has been undeniable with Oklahoma product Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. It’s never been about if he is good enough to make the team. It’s always been about is he available enough to make the team. The best ability in the NFL is availability. We see players come and go after being a starter one year to being replaced the next due to injury. With Okoronkwo, he’s always received rave reviews in camp but the question was always when would we see him on the field?

We finally saw number 45 on the field and he blew up the Cowboys offensive line. He was a nightmare all night long as to be expected. The second-year player batted down a pass, made a tackle and forced multiple pressures which ended up drawing multiple holding penalties as well. He is a menacing pass rusher. If you like Okoronkwo or you just like the Rams all you can ask for is for him to stay healthy because if he does, that linebacker room is going to be even better than last year.

This is a player I felt was a legitimate second-round talent in 2018. The Los Angeles Rams stole him in the fifth-round and now he’s healthy. Watch out!

1. Natrez Patrick, Landis Durham & Josh Carraway are all making a big case to make the 53-man roster.

It’s preseason and we are all guilty of hyping up fringe roster guys. However, Natrez Patrick, Landis Durham, and Josh Carraway have been brilliant with their play on the Rams defense. Patrick was all over the field once again just like last week, Durham put on plenty of pressure and Carraway did as well. Patrick seems to be valued more as an edge rusher than as an inside backer but we will have to monitor that. As for Durham, he didn’t get the start but it didn’t matter because he made things happen when he needed to. Carraway did get the start and made things happen as well. I’m just thoroughly impressed with all three of these guys.

I can’t wait to see them produce next week. This outside linebacker competition is getting heated and without Justin Lawler, for the foreseeable future, the opportunities have never looked more open. Will all three make the roster? That’s up in the air. However, are they doing enough to get in that conversation? My answer would be a resounding yes. Unfortunately, with how much each three have shown up on film, there is an unlikely chance either of these guys will make it to the Los Angeles Rams practice squad if the team chooses to go that risky route.

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