Five Things to Watch Heading into Los Angeles Rams Training Camp
Training Camp is underway! Probably one of my favorite things about training camp is watching players show up in their elaborate cars trying to one-up each other. Antonio Brown’s chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce did not disappoint. Besides the rides, the stories and the general excitement of football being that much closer, there’s lots to love about the start of the Rams training camp.
Lucky for me, I live 30 minutes from where the Rams training camp is taking place. So I was able to catch the full practice this past Sunday. Having never been to a training camp, I did not know how much I would actually get to see. Surprisingly, I saw a lot. The set up in Irvine is great, there’s plenty of seating shaded by tents and you can walk around all four practice fields. Plenty of good vantage points and hardly any blocked views. Well done UC Irvine Rams organization. New season, new head coach, new Rams, there was a lot to see and get excited about, so let’s dive into five of the key issues to watch in Rams training camp.
Wiping the Slate Clean
With the brisk firing of Jeff Fisher in December, the search was on to find the right fit for a new head coach. Myself, I would have loved to see John Gruden make a return to the NFL, but personal favorites aside, the hiring of Sean McVay has great potential.
McVay started as a WR coach in 2008 with Tampa Bay. By 2010 he joined the Redskins as their TE coach. Continuing his climb up the ladder, he became their offensive coordinator in 2014. Now he’s the head coach of the Rams, and he’s only 31. That’s impressive, and a little intimidating. Every interview you hear about him is that he’s a coach with the ability to see the whole picture from every point of view. That he understands how each player’s move affects who they’re next to.
Rising through the ranks as quickly as he has means there’s got to be a lot of truth to that. If word of mouth isn’t enough, the impressive stats Kirk Cousins and his offense put up over the past two years should close the deal. In the six games Cousins played in 2014, he had 10 touchdowns and 1,710 passing yards. In 2015, when he played the full season, he went to 21 passing TDs and 4,166 passing yards. Last year Cousins was third in the league in overall passing with 4,710 yards. Clearly, McVay is doing something right.
Ready for a Sophomore Spike
I wasn’t surprised to see rookies out on the field first. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to see Jared Goff among the first players out practicing. After being left to warm the bench the first half of last season, then thrown into the lion’s den, there’s nowhere for Goff to go but up. He has a coach who understands his strong suits and will make the entire offense function as a whole. This should give Goff confidence and relieve some of the pressure. Goff has already spoken highly of the new offense and his excitement for the new direction the team is taking. It’s apparent in watching him at practice as well. Far less hesitation, increased communication with his receivers. Plus it didn’t hurt to see him throw a few deep passes to Tavon Austin, Todd Gurley & Tyler Higbee.
The only thing more exciting than the thought of the season starting was seeing Gurley connect with Goff during practice. This was especially exciting when you look back on last year’s dip in rushing yards and touchdowns. Crushed owners throughout the fantasy world were deeply saddened by his underwhelming performance. Now we have a new year and a new coach that players are unanimously excited for. They had Gurley running through such a wide variety of plays, it has my hopes running high. He looked good. He ran the majority of his practice plays with Goff and they were in constant communication. Super fun to watch. I would not be surprised to see him back to top RB numbers in 2017.
Stable of Receivers
Kenny Britt is gone and Tavon Austin is the lead receiver remaining from last year. Watching him work on Sunday, that may not change. Though he is still recovering from a wrist surgery and currently wearing a guard, he showed no hesitation and did not appear limited.
Also in the mix for the WR1 role is newly-added Robert Woods, while the No. 3 spot should fall to third round rookie pick Cooper Kupp. Woods is entering his fifth year in the NFL and has posted a few bright points in the fantasy realm. Fantasy owners can hope that he will be a sneaky late-round pick, as he is talented and has a big opportunity to make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Kupp has the Rams staff very excited with his student-of-the-game approach and unrelenting work ethic. That ethic showed on the practice field as well.
Austin looked good in practice, but what I personally found most entertaining was the speed on Shakeir Ryan, an undrafted rookie from Northwestern State (Louisiana). Ryan was, in my opinion, the hardest working receiver of the day. He took every rep at full strength. There was nothing casual about the way he took practice. Easily the most fun to watch, purely based on his speed and effort. Looking further into Ryan’s past I found that he received honorable mention in the All-Southland Conference last season as a punt returner, finishing second in the conference with a 10.1-yd return average. Perhaps the Rams will continue his path into special teams. Personally, I hope to hear his name more often.
Tight End Potential
Last season I believed Tyler Higbee had the potential to be a great sleeper pick. Unfortunately, in the Jeff Fisher scheme, he was mostly used for his blocking skills, true to his college nickname: “The Bulldozer”. However, with Lance Kendricks off to Green Bay, I believe Tyler’s time has come. The skill is still there and he has an offensive-minded coach who spent two years as a tight end coach. In 2010, during McVay’s first season as the TE coach in Washington, Chris Cooley was second in receiving targets behind Santana Moss with 127 targets and 77 receptions for 849 yards. Both Chris Cooley and Fred Davis had three TDs a piece that season as well. Higbee is 6’6”, 257 lbs and very durable.
During his Senior year at Western Kentucky, he had eight touchdowns with 38 receptions totaling 563 yards. From the tape, he appears explosive with great hands. Watching him play this Sunday I was reminded of his versatility. He lined up in every formation and Goff or backup Sean Mannion found him. The Rams defense didn’t make it an easy practice for any of the receivers, but with Higbee’s massive frame, he consistently made catches and finished plays tough. Keep Higbee on your radar this offseason. Hopefully, with the new McVay-minded offense, he’ll see a bump in targets and fantasy relevance.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Rams training camp, visit TheRams.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others. Plus, check out the TFA website for more training camp articles and content!