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8 Rams on roster bubble who must stand out vs. Chargers

Brown was already on the bubble, but his six-game suspension makes his chances of earning a roster spot even slimmer. He didn’t generate any buzz during training camp and is now listed as the third-string nose tackle behind Greg Gaines and Jonah Williams.

Behind the starting defensive line, it’s a wide-open competition for roster spots between Brown, Earnest Brown IV, Williams, Marquise Copeland, Michael Hoecht and Elijah Garcia. Brown can’t play in the first six regular-season games, but he is eligible for the preseason – which he needs to treat like postseason games.


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Freed from QB purgatory, Rams WR Allen Robinson can finally shine

Some receivers have all the luck, and some really don’t. Maybe you played with Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers most of your career, and things were laid out for you in a relative sense. On the other side of that equation, maybe you’re Andre Johnson, whose list of quarterbacks with the Houston Texans from 2003-2014 was hardly a Murderers’ Row, and Johnson still led the entire league in several receiving categories at his peak. When you can do that, and Matt Schaub was your best quarterback, you probably deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But no receiver of this era has been more snakebit at the quarterback position than Allen Robinson, and this goes back to his days at Penn State. There, his primary quarterbacks were Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg. Regardless, Robinson was excellent in his two seasons as a starter for the Nittany Lions, gaining 174 passes for 2,450 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012-2013.

That got him selected by the Jaguars in the second round of the 2014 draft, and Robinson’s quarterback purgatory continued. From Blake Bortles and Chad Henne in four seasons with the Jaguars, to Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, and Justin Fields in four seasons with the Bears, Robinson has never had a quarterback throwing him the ball who could be said to play at an above-average level. Robinson has also had a crazy quilt of play-designers throughout his career — his last in the 2021 was Matt Nagy, which kind of says it all.

Now? Things are quite different for Robinson, who signed a three-year, $46.5 million contract with $30.25 million guaranteed with the Los Angeles Rams in March. Going from the Bears’ quarterback situation to Matthew Stafford, and from Nagy to Sean McVay is… well, we’ll have to throw some more RAM in our Situation Improvement Generator before we can accurately track what an upgrade this is.

Through training camp, Robinson has proven to be everything the Rams hoped he would be — a big (6-foot-2, 220-pound) target who can win in contested catch situations all day long.

This wasn’t bad, either.

“I think just being able to get him those targets,” McVay said on August 1, when asked what excited him about adding Robinson to the roster. “He can really run a bunch of different types of routes down there. You saw there was a great job. Matthew kind of working through a progression… big, strong physical guy working across the back of the end zone. You talk about big catch radius where it doesn’t even feel like he has to leave the ground to really be kind of right at that goalpost.”

Stafford agreed regarding Robinson’s ability to win when it counts, pointing to one particular pass.

“He was like 3A, maybe four, in the read progression on that play. Kind of a backside route and my eyes were at the one and two on the right side, and moved the post player just because I was reading it out. I was able to click back, guys up front did a great job giving me some time on that. He was racing across the back of the end zone, tried to put it in a nice high spot, nothing bad would happen up there. He went up and got it, great diving catch, strong hands. That’s what he’s about. That’s what’s going to help us put points on the board — making plays like that in the red zone.”

When you’ve already got a connection like this with your new quarterback, good things are bound to happen — as long as Stafford’s “Thrower’s Elbow” is okay over time.

But as McVay has said, Robinson is about more than just one route concept, or just beating guys up for touchdowns (though there’s nothing wrong with beating guys up for touchdowns). Let’s take a look, as much as we can given who’s been throwing him the ball before, at all the different ways in which Allen Robinson can make the Rams’ offense better.

(Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)

The dig route — in which a receiver fakes a vertical concept and then runs a crosser over the middle — was a major part of the Rams’ passing offense in 2021. Per Sports Info Solutions, only the 49ers, Bengals, and Vikings had more attempts to receivers running dog routes than the Rams’ 50. Stafford threw all 50 of those passes, completing 26, for 345 yards, 283 air yards, two touchdowns, for interceptions, and a passer rating of 58.8, which ranked 19th among quarterbacks who had at least 25 attempts on that route.

Robinson, with his size, speed, and route acumen, should help a lot. As shown on this 28-yard catch against the Lions in Week 4, Robinson is adept at using the defender as a landmark, knowing when to adjust the route, and how to create openings.

(Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports)

Last season, Robinson caught just four passes of 20 or more air yards for 114 yards and no touchdowns, but that was far more a product of the Bears’ bedraggled passing game than any limitations on his part. When he was given the opportunity to go deep and win, that’s when the size/speed/route thing kicked in again. Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet, who found himself betwixt and between on this deep throw from Justin Fields in Week 9, wouldn’t need to be warned again about that.

Then, there’s this 20-yard catch against the Packers in Week 6, in which Robinson notes the incoming bracket from cornerback Isaac Yiadom and safety Adrian Amos, and does what he does anyway.

“I just know what he’s good at,” Stafford recently said of Robinson. “So far, what I’ve seen is just about everything, which is a positive for us as a team. Being able to move him inside, outside, down the field, underneath, short area balls in the back of the zone, stuff like that. He’s done a really nice job.”

Expect more deep balls to come Robinson’s way in 2022 — both outside, and from the slot.

(Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)

McVay and Stafford probably had to do a bit of projection when anticipating how Robinson could improve their red zone passing game — he was barely targeted last season from the opposing 10-yard line to the opposing one-yard line, which is one of hundreds of reasons the Bears’ 2021 offense should have been locked in a shed and set on fire.

Still, there’s this touchdown catch against the Bengals in Week 2 to help us understand just how well he can get and stay open in contested catch situations — especially when there’s no vertical escape, and everything is compressed. Robinson’s competitive temperament is such that he’s more inclined to make things happen, then to wait and wonder, “What happened?”

(Apologies in advance for the Soldier Field All-22).

Cooper Kupp led all NFL receivers last season with 22 red zone targets; the only other Rams receivers with double-digits in red zone targets were Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee, each with 10. Based on the team’s giddiness regarding Robinson’s ability in this region of the field, he may usurp even Kupp as The Guy.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

McVay recently explained how important it is for any receiver new to his system, no matter how gifted, to get connected with his quarterback on all the subtleties.

“I think the biggest thing is when you’re looking at certain routes that might have a couple different decision making elements at the top based on some of these routes where you have three way options sitting down, breaking in, breaking out. The indicators — them being on the same page and being able to really trust, [and] let things go with anticipation even if it’s not a clear defined route based on some of those different things that we’re doing. Those are the things that I really thought Matthew and Cooper showed elite rapport with one another.

“You’re starting to see that [with Stafford and Robinson]. And then just getting a feel for, ‘Okay, if I am covered, where do you like a throw based on the leverage of the DB  if it’s something down the field?’ Those are the things that as a coach, you give your players ownership and autonomy, and that’s what Matthew does a great job of. I really appreciate a lot of the dialogue that goes on in our absence, because it’s about their ownership.”

Stafford isn’t worried at all about building that connection.

“Yeah, it’s exciting,” he said. “Anytime we can add great players to this team, it’s a positive for us, no matter what position they play. Obviously, Allen has done a great job in this league for a long time in a couple different spots, with a bunch of different quarterbacks, putting up great numbers and playing at a high level. So, happy to have the opportunity to work with him. Probably the most pleasant surprise is just who he is as a person and how he goes about his business. I think you guys see that from afar too. Just the way he works, he fits right in, in that room. It’s a hardworking room. He’s a guy that fits that mold which is great.”

As for Robinson, he’s just stoked to finally be in an environment where his skills can be property utilized.

“I’m a player who I invite press [coverage], I enjoy it.” Robinson said in May. “Going against press coverage is something I’ve enjoyed since I’ve stepped foot in this league. So, being able to win some one-on-one backside concepts, and also being able to occupy some of the intermediate stuff across the field, and being able to add some run after the catch and things like that. I think for me, I’ve always prided myself on not being one-dimensional and being able to have all parts of my game be fine-tuned. That’s red zone, deep stuff, intermediate, short stuff, and like I said before, this is an offense that occupies all levels of the field.”

Teams didn’t press Robinson a lot last season, and perhaps this 13-yard catch against the Bengals shows why. Robinson is up against Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati’s best cornerback, and this just isn’t a fair fight.

However Allen Robinson is utilized in the Rams’ offense, expect all kinds of fireworks. Finally, after far too long, he’s matched his talents with a deserving group around him.




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Running the ball better is ‘a big point of emphasis’

The Rams didn’t win the Super Bowl last year on the back of a strong running game. In fact, they won it all despite struggling to move the ball consistently on the ground. During the regular season, they ranked 25th in rushing yards, 28th in rushing touchdowns and 25th in yards per carry.

Thankfully, the passing attack was consistent, averaging the second-most net yards per pass attempt in the NFL.

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And in the postseason when Cam Akers returned, the running game didn’t improve much. They rushed for 140 yards in a blowout win over the Cardinals, but in their next three playoff games, they gained just 186 total yards on the ground. That was on 82 carries, which comes out to an average of only 2.3 yards per carry.

Leading into this season, Sean McVay knows the Rams must run the ball better and more efficiently. That’s not lost on him or the team.

“It’s been a big point of emphasis because we’ve got to be more efficient running the football,” he said on SiriusXM NFL Radio recently. “You’d love to be able to create the explosives but I think just the snap-in and snap-out efficiency. Obviously, the last game we played, credit to Cincinnati, but really throughout the playoffs – with the exception of the Arizona game – we didn’t run the football very well. That’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in here. It starts with us being able to put our players in the right spots, giving them clarity, and then we’ve got to be able to go execute. Whether it’s Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, feel really good about those guys. And then continuing to figure out with our five linemen up front, Tyler Higbee at tight end, Kendall Blanton, Brycen Hopkins, what are the things and concepts we can activate that put them in the right spots. But it’s not lost on us that we didn’t run the football good enough, we’ve got to continue to get better in that area, and then continue to maintain a high level of execution in the pass game also.”

The Rams should benefit from Akers’ return now that he’s fully recovered from his Achilles tear, but it’s more than just the running back. The offensive line has to contribute, the tight ends must block better and the wide receivers have to seal off defenders when the run goes outside.

Matthew Stafford and the passing game are still the bread and butter of this offense, but balancing it with an efficient rushing attack will pay dividends.


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Rams’ biggest winners and losers from training camp

It was a competition at punter between Dicker and Riley Dixon, but the signs right now point toward the Rams keeping the veteran over the undrafted rookie. Dicker is listed as the backup behind Dixon on the depth chart, and Joe DeCamillis has a connection to Dixon from their days together with the Broncos.

“I would say there’s a definite competition. I think both guys have done a good job. Riley’s obviously a veteran. I’ve had him before in Denver. He’s got a very similar skill set to what we had before, but Cam’s doing a good job for us too so it should be a real good battle,” DeCamillis said almost two weeks ago.

We’ll see who gets more opportunities to punt in the preseason.


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Rams are 3.5-point underdogs in ‘road’ preseason game vs. Chargers

The NFL preseason isn’t a time to watch your favorite players throw for 300 yards or rack up 150 yards on the ground. In the first week of the preseason, most teams will limit their starters to a series or two – if they play at all.

In Saturday’s Rams-Chargers matchup, you shouldn’t expect to see any of their top players on the field. That makes betting on the game and predicting the outcome pretty difficult.

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But if you’re still interested in throwing down a few bucks on this “Fight for Los Angeles,” we’ve got everything you need to know. Here are the latest betting lines from Tipico Sportsbook.

Moneyline:

  • Rams +130 (bet $100 to win $130)
  • Chargers -160 (bet $160 to win $100)

Spread:

  • Rams +3.5 (-110)
  • Chargers -3.5 (-110)

Over/Under: 30.5 points

This is technically a road game for the Rams, but since they share SoFi Stadium with the Chargers, they’ll be right at home on Saturday night.

Last preseason, the Rams went 0-3, while the Chargers went 1-2 in Brandon Staley’s first run through these exhibition contests. The Chargers scored the second-fewest points of any team, however, with just 23 points in three games.


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Tutu Atwell among players Sean McVay is excited to see in preseason

The preseason may not be glamorous and exciting like the regular season or playoffs – especially for a team like the Rams that rests its starters – but it certainly serves a purpose. It gives younger, unproven players a chance to show they deserve a roster spot and an opportunity.

The Rams kick off their preseason slate on Saturday against the Chargers and Sean McVay already has a handful of players he’s excited to see take the field – Tutu Atwell and Robert Rochell among them.

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“I’m excited to watch Logan Bruss play and A.J. Arcuri. A lot of these young players,” he said. “There’s a handful of second-year guys. You want to see if a lot of the good stuff Robert Rochell has done translates into some of the real game action. Want to see Daniel Hardy play with that effort and intensity that he’s played with. I could go on and on about a lot of guys, but Tutu is a guy that’s done a really nice job,” McVay said. “We’re working through exactly what his role in the preseason looks like and those are things that will pretty much finalize that we kind of talked about last night and then working towards today.”

McVay mentioned Wednesday that six defensive backs won’t play in the preseason, including Jalen Ramsey and David Long Jr. But he did say that players who are expected to play a role in the regular season will still get snaps in the preseason.

It’ll be interesting to see if Coleman Shelton is one of those players because he’s separated himself in the right guard battle, so if he doesn’t play, it might be a sign that he’s locked up that job over Logan Bruss.

Atwell has a chance to be the No. 4 receiver and a contributor on offense, but McVay wants to see how he plays in game settings after not getting many opportunities last season. He should be on every fan’s radar this weekend.


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Rams training camp: 11 biggest takeaways

It was obvious that the Rams needed cornerback help this offseason after losing Darious Williams, and even though they waited until Day 3 of the draft to address the position, they may have gotten two steals with Decobie Durant and Derion Kendrick.

Durant and Kendrick were both studs in camp and as Day 3 rookies, they’ve already exceeded expectations. Now, it’s obviously still very early in the process and they haven’t taken a single snap in a game yet, but they’ve looked the part in the secondary.

Durant, in particular, has put his ball skills on full display with several interceptions in camp, against both the first-team offense and the backups. He was an underrated prospect in the draft and somewhat of a sleeper, but he might be on the verge of playing meaningful snaps as a rookie.

Kendrick has also showed up a bunch, even when covering a big, physical receiver like Allen Robinson. A sixth-round rookie, Kendrick might be a sleeper in the secondary if the Rams put him in proper spots where receivers can’t take advantage of his lack of speed.


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Sean McVay can’t wait to watch Andrew Whitworth’s broadcasting debut

Andrew Whitworth will have a different job this summer than the one he grew accustomed to. Rather than watching his teammates from the sideline during preseason games, he’ll be up in the booth evaluating his former peers as a broadcaster.

Whitworth will join the Rams’ broadcast team, alongside Andrew Siciliano and Mina Kimes, for their three preseason games, beginning on Saturday night when the Rams take on the Chargers. Sean McVay, who coached Whitworth for five seasons, is looking forward to watching the former left tackle’s broadcast debut afterwards, and he’ll also be critiquing Whitworth on how he does.

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“No question,” McVay said of whether he’ll watch the broadcast back and evaluate Whitworth. “He’s got his house set up, he’s got the film, he’s ready to really evaluate. And I’m gonna be evaluating his broadcast skills.”

Whitworth didn’t play in preseason games for the Rams and he got plenty of days off from practice during training camp, so he might be even busier now that he’s retired compared to what he was doing in recent summers.

“He’s naturally a grinder. I think he knows more about the roster than I do right now,” McVay joked. “He’ll do a great job. You guys know from spending time with him, whether it’s with our broadcast team, whether it’s with Amazon, I think he’s one of those guys that whatever he decides to do, it’s gonna be a real good move and I’m excited about watching the big fella on TV.”

McVay and Whitworth have remained close following the latter’s retirement, and they’ll likely be friends for a long, long time. And who knows, maybe we’ll even see Whitworth working on McVay’s staff down the line.


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Matthew Stafford’s elbow ‘scares the heck out of me’

Matthew Stafford’s elbow became a major storyline of training camp, even though the Rams never planned for that to be the case. He felt some pain in his right arm after throwing in practice one day, so the team lightened his workload by giving him some days off from team drills.

Stafford and Sean McVay have maintained that it’s nothing to worry about long-term, and that they’re just trying to make sure he’s as healthy as possible for the upcoming season. But those on the outside looking in are a bit more worried about Stafford’s elbow.

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Former Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz shared his thoughts on the injury in a video for 33rd Team, and he would be concerned if he were the head coach or coordinator.

“If I’m the head coach here, if I’m the coordinator and he’s still not feeling right with that arm, I’m nervous about it because we’ve had a long time here to get that arm right,” Martz said.

Martz said when he was with the Rams, their quarterbacks experienced some fatigue in camp because they threw the ball so often in practice. It even happened to Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, causing the team to lighten his workload.

The Rams also talked to the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff about arm fatigue, Martz said.

“We had a similar situation where we used to throw the ball so much in practice, we’d call it the rag arm. The guys, their arm, they go to throw the ball and it just looks like a duck. I don’t care how strong, they used to throw too much,” he said. “… Every third day, we knocked off the reps for Kurt because he threw the ball so much, and then the other guys picked up their reps. So you’ve got to give them enough rest and yet give them great work and a lot of reps in spurts.”

Martz isn’t inside the building so he doesn’t know the exact status of Stafford’s elbow or how the quarterback is feeling, but based on his experience and his take on the situation, Martz would be concerned.

“I don’t know, but it scares the heck out of me because, they’re talking about it now, and boy, that would scare me,” he said.


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Sean McVay was ‘sick for Van Jefferson’ over timing of knee injury

Van Jefferson will once again be the Rams’ No. 3 receiver this season, but he faces some additional challenges as Week 1 approaches. Jefferson has undergone not one, but two offseason surgeries on his knee.

The second procedure wasn’t planned until Jefferson tweaked his knee in practice, requiring minor surgery to fix the issue. The timing of the injury was poor, not only because it brings his Week 1 status into question, but because he was coming off maybe the best practice he’s ever had as a Ram.

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“I’m sick for Van Jefferson that he was really coming off arguably his best practice as a Ram, looking great, has a little bit of a setback,” McVay said on “Inside Rams Camp” this week. “Fortunately, we’re gonna get him back.”

McVay didn’t specify when Jefferson will be back, and it’s still unclear if he’ll be ready for the season opener on Sept. 8, but there’s still a chance he’ll be on the field against the Bills. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported Tuesday that Jefferson has begun training in his rehab and has a chance to play in Week 1.

Tutu Atwell and Ven Skowronek have gotten more opportunities in Jefferson’s place, as has Brandon Powell. And McVay likes what he’s seen from all three.

“What (Jefferson’s injury) has done is create opportunities for Tutu Atwell to show he’s capable. Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell. Those are the positives, even though you don’t ever want to lose a guy,” McVay said.

When healthy, Jefferson is likely to still be the No. 3 receiver this season, but Atwell is pushing for snaps, too.


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