- Los Angeles had the fewest rookie snaps of any team in the league, instead relying on veteran talent to reach the Super Bowl. So what role exactly do this year’s rookies play?
ATLANTA — At Super Bowl LIII’s Opening Night, many of the Rams rookies leaned against a wall and talked amongst themselves while clusters of reporters surrounded their veteran teammates, elbowing to get a better position.
Forgive the media for not forming long lines to talk to the youngest Rams. Los Angeles’s rookies played the fewest snaps of any team’s rookie class with 613 regular-season snaps. The team with the second-fewest rookie snaps? New England, wiith 893 regular season snaps. The NFL average was 2,580 rookie snaps over the course of the season, with the Colts leading the league with more the 5,000 snaps.
The Rams traded their 2018 first-round pick to the Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their 2018 second-round pick to the Bills for Sammy Watkins, so the team didn’t pick until the third round of last year’s draft. Los Angeles built much of this Super Bowl team on veteran talent or on trades for veteran players.
“We’re a loaded team with great players all over the place so it’s hard to get on the field,” Rams rookie linebacker Micah Kiser says.
“Our team is made of outstanding vets,” rookie defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day says. “I am in a strange room where there are like three future Hall of Famers, and that is so uncommon. I'm behind Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald.”
The Rams’ rookies fill myriad roles on and off the field, leaving their marks in different ways. Kiser has appeared on special teams all season. Defensive end John Franklin-Myers, a fourth-round pick, has played the most snaps of any Los Angeles rookie, appearing in every game this season for the Rams. Linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo hasn’t seen any playing time, but The MMQB’s Robert Klemko reported that the rookie fifth-round pick helped teach defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. the defense when Fowler arrived in Los Angeles via trade midseason.
Joseph-Day, a sixth-round pick, never took a regular-season snap this season, but every day in practice he and the Rams’ scout team defense line up against the starting offensive line to give them looks to prepare them for the next opponent. Joseph-Day is obsessed with simulating the opponent as perfectly as he can, because he knows this is his most important role right now. After one game this season (Joseph-Day won’t reveal which one), Rams starting guard Rodger Saffold approached the rookie defensive tackle, “Hey Sea Bass, you gave us a great look in practice. It’s harder going against you!”
“For a guy like that that is working day in and day out, you have to let those guys know about how important they are to this team,” Saffold says. “Those guys don't get a lot of credit, they aren’t seen as much, but I think hearing that from one of their veteran teammates gets them to go a little bit harder and gives them hope for the future.”
Head coach Sean McVay told rookie tackle Joseph Noteboom, the Rams first pick of the 2018 class, that he should “hover” around veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth has played 13 seasons in the league and has taken extra time this season to mentor Noteboom. Klemko also reported that when Whitworth had his veteran’s day rest on Thursdays, Noteboom took all the reps with the starters, while Whitworth stood behind him during practice and gave him live notes.
That work was important when Noteboom’s number was called in the regular season finale, when Whitworth left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.
“When it came time to play in the game, he was able to do it,” Saffold says. “He did everything he was supposed to do, and he helped us win a football game.”
“None of our rookies play that much but I think it is a good thing because we all get to sit a little bit and learn,” Noteboom says. “Me, behind a veteran like Whitworth, we watch film after practice every day and he is watching me so he can tell me what he would have done and what I can do better.”
The Rams have 12 players who will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, including four starters—Suh, Saffold, Fowler and LaMarcus Joyner—which means the rookies’ time may come as soon as next season.
“We have a lot of free agents this year,” says Saffold, likely the team’s top priority in signing to a new deal. “So when their time comes, they are going to know what it takes to be successful in this league. They’ll be just fine.”
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Jenny Vrentas on Patriots defensive coordinator (and expected Dolphins head coach) Brian Flores and his important relationship with his mother. ... The first story in our series on the familiar rhythm of a Patriots season. ... Our post-Senior Bowl mock draft features three quarterbacks in the Top 10... Tim Rohan on Gronkowski’s potential Hollywood career. ... What you missed from Tuesday’s media availability at the Super Bowl and more.
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