The Rams held their 15th practice of 2017 training camp on Wednesday afternoon. The pads were back on for today’s practice and overall it proved to be a fun and spirited session for the entire team. After tomorrow’s morning workout, the Rams will pack their bags and head up to Oakland to face off against the Raiders in Week 2 of the preseason.
Here’s everything you need to know from the Rams’ penultimate day at UC Irvine:
Wednesday saw the return of wide receiver Nelson Spruce to the practice field. Although Spruce was limited in the amount of reps taken throughout the afternoon, he had some solid catches in the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills and should see some game action in Saturday’s matchup.
There were, however, a few members of the Rams’ secondary missing from practice today. Cornerbacks Nickell Robey-Coleman, Mike Jordan, and Kayvon Webster watched from the sidelines as a variety of other defensive backs were worked in along the outside. Head coach Sean McVay said keeping them off the field was “really just precautionary” at this point.
“Because of where we’re at, we want to be smart with those guys,” McVay said. “A lot of the time it ends up just being some of those nagging injuries that those skilled players, those receivers and those corners you have to be really careful with.”
A number of veteran players also took the day off as part of the team’s “maintenance program” under director of sports medicine and performance Reggie Scott and the rest of his training staff. Center John Sullivan, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, left guard Rodger Saffold and linebackers Mark Barron and Connor Barwin were held out in an effort to keep them healthy coming into the regular season.
“It’s about being able to do that while also giving some younger guys a chance to maybe get some reps that they wouldn’t get otherwise,” he added. “I think it’s worked out well for us throughout the course of training camp and so far, so good.”
Looking toward Oakland
One question heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Raiders is how much will the Rams’ starters play? After practice, McVay addressed that question saying that the first-team offense and defense will work on field through the end of the first quarter. The Rams’ newest addition, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, will be included in that first team lineup.
“We’ll play our starters — the goal is a little bit more,” McVay said. “We’ll see how that goes, but Sammy’s going to be a guy that is a big part of our plans offensively and we expect to get him involved on Saturday.”
After two days of padded practices, Watkins has increased his reps with the first- and second-team offense. Though he said on Monday that it “would take him about a week and a half” to fully grasp the offense, he has proven to be a quick learner.
“Just what a great person he is, a great communicator, how quickly he’s picked things up,” McVay said. “He’s able to articulate his role and responsibility within the framework of some of the things we’re asking him to do and he’s been very impressive in that regard. He did a great job, so it was good to have Sammy today.”
As Wednesday’s practice went on, he looked more and more comfortable with the rest of the offense, catching a couple of deep passes from Goff in the 11-on-11 drills. His quarterback took notice, calling Watkins a “special player” to watch.
“He’s brand new to some of the stuff, but you see the first play of live team there – the way he ran through that ball is something I don’t think we’ve seen in a little while. It was pretty special the way he plucked it and ran through it.”
Tight ends stepping up
Over the last two days of practice, tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee have made for a dynamic duo. Both have been impressive in the passing game, showcasing good hands and quick speed, and have provided solid additions as blockers.
McVay was known for his productive use of the tight end position with Washington and brought that tight-end friendly offense with him to the Los Angeles. Everett and Higbee, along with Temarrick Hemingway and Corey Harkey, have been targeted consistently throughout camp and should take on even greater responsibilities in the next few preseason matchups.
Asked whether fans can expect to see Higbee and Everett working together in a ‘12’ personnel grouping, McVay told reporters it’s a real possibility.
“When you’ve got functional players that can both compete in the run and the pass it allows you to be a little bit more multiple offensively,” McVay said. “And that’s why you feel really good about our tight end group and what we’ll hopefully be able to present to defenses.”
Today, Everett looked especially effective in the team’s red zone work, out-jumping his defender to reel in a touchdown pass from Mannion. In Tuesday’s practice Higbee was targeted heavily by Goff, while Hemingway made some impressive grabs in traffic. All in all, the tight end group should be an exciting position to watch develop throughout the rest of August.
– Ball protection drills were featured as a point of emphasis for the third consecutive day of training camp. McVay said that after the five fumbles occurred in the preseason opener, protecting the football would be a primary focus on the practice field.
“You look at it and it starts with me — I’ve got to do a better job of emphasizing it and it’s like we talked about too, you try to mimic and emulate those game like situations, as much as possible in practice,” McVay said of the drills. “We’ve got to be mindful of protecting, especially in those congested areas. Looking forward to seeing how we improve on Saturday.”
– Cornerback Trumaine Johnson recorded the first interception of the day rising up to pick off a pass from Goff in 11-on-11 drills. Dominique Hatfield recorded his second-straight interception in the last two days, picking off a pass from Dan Orlovsky towards the end of the day.
– Day 15 also gave fans a preview of the Rams’ depth at a selection of different positions as many veterans had the day off from practice. Tackle Darrell Williams, center Austin Blythe and guard Cody Wichmann stepped in on the offensive line, while defensive end Matt Longacre took reps with the first-team defense.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Today’s play of the day was really more of a “portion of the day” and came from a selection of exciting grabs in Wednesday’s one-on-ones between wide receivers and cornerbacks.
The first came from Cooper Kupp, who put a nice move on Johnson at the line to bring in a touchdown pass from Goff. The second happened just moments later when wide receiver — and birthday boy — Mike Thomas jumped up to grab a lobbed ball from Mannion, gliding his feet in for the touchdown in the back corner of the end zone.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 16, 2017
After practice McVay spoke to the media about Everett’s progression thus far in training camp. Catch up on his most interesting points from Day 15:
On Gerald Everett’s progression in red zone situations: “I think that’s where he’s done a nice job. You see the size, you see the ability in terms of being about to have great body control for a man of his size with the ball skills. He does a nice job in the red zone and when the ball’s in his hands he was excellent running after the catch and offers a lot of versatility for us at that tight end spot. I have been very pleased.”