Preseason football is finally here and the two Los Angeles football teams — Rams and Chargers — kicked off their preseason opener at Sofi stadium with fans in attendance for the first time.
Neither the Rams or Chargers played any of their star players. Instead, like most other preseason games, the two teams played primarily rookies, players fighting for a spot in a position battle, or aging veterans showing they still belong.
Here are five observations that stood out in the Rams 13-6 preseason loss against the Chargers:
1. LB Justin Lawler Showed His Worth
Lawler was primarily a special teams contributor last season, playing in 47% special teams snaps, compared to 3% of the team's defensive snaps. Throughout training camp, he's been working to show his worth behind edge rusher Leonard Floyd. And tonight, he did just that.
Lawler applied more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than any other Rams' defender Saturday night, totaling five total tackles, two quarterback hits and one tackle for loss. While the starting defensive line of the Rams is already set, their depth still needs players to step up. Lawler looked re-energized with his knack to get after opposing quarterbacks and impact their throws. Lawler had two quarterback hits, resulting in two incomplete passes.
With the Rams' secondary being built among their youth due to John Johnson III and Troy Hill's departure, having players beyond the starters who can get after the quarterback, will help sure up the back-end with less time for quarterbacks to throw. It's just one preseason game, but Lawler's stock has elevated as a player who could presumably find himself as a rotational option off the edge, serving as a depth option.
2. The Return Game is in Good Hands
When the Rams released their first unofficial depth chart, wide receiver Cooper Kupp was also listed as the team's punt returner. McVay later said during his media availability that Kupp will not return punts for them. So speculation then began to boil on who would get the first set of looks in the preseason as the deep man.
Rookie wide receiver Tutu Atwell got the call, returning a 20-yard attempt that was eventually called back as a result of a holding call. However, Atwell did display how dynamic of a runner he can be in open space. It's apparent that his speed can eat up yardage in a big hurry.
Ramond Calais also received opportunities as the return man, including a 46-yard return before halftime. Calais is also fighting for one of the reserve running back spots, so if he can provide value as both a rusher and a return man, his chances are considerably greater.
3. QB Bryce Perkins Held His Own
Perkins shared snaps with quarterback Devlin 'Duck' Hodges at about a 50/50 split. None of the two sliced up the Chargers' defense, but both took what was given to them.
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Perkins brought a unique dimension with his running ability, including a stiff arm and hurdle over a defender. He finished the night going 7-for-10, 42 yards and a touchdown.
One preseason game won't determine who solidifies the No. 3 quarterback position, but Perkins stood out with both his arm and legs as the leader among the two.
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4. Kicker Concerns
The Rams have brought two kickers into training camp: Matt Gay and Austin MacGinnis. Both were given opportunities to display their leg, but neither really showed out.
Gay botched an extra point attempt in the first half, and MacGinnis missed a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Gay spent minimal time with the Rams last season, making 14 field goal attempts and 16 extra points in 2020. However, MacGinnis is the less experienced kicker, who spent time as a member of the Patriots last season but never was sent into a game. The kicking battle is one that will continue to be monitored over the next couple of weeks.
5. Running Back Depth Continues to be a Work in Progress
The running back spots behind Darrell Henderson have been the most coveted camp battle over the past few weeks. Seeing how the young rushers deliver in preseason play will hold significant weight in who secures the RB2 and RB3 roster spots.
Xavier Jones, Jake Funk and Raymond Calais all received touches. While none of the three broke off a big gain, they all looked qualified to be a rotational back.
Jones led the group with seven carries for 21 yards. His longest carry of the night came on an 8-yard rush. He also contributed as a pass-catcher, hauling in two grabs for minimal gains. He's probably the leading candidate for the No. 2 spot after getting a sizeable dose of carries in the Rams-Cowboys joint practice, and then following that up tonight as the leading running back.
Continue Reading: Rams' Cooper Kupp Wants to Expand Role in 2021
Nick Cothrel is the Publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel.