After mini (camp) previews, these are questions Rams must answer in training camp

Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

Optimism abounded, though it was tempered by uncertainty.

That is how the Rams entered their summer break.

Players emerged last week from voluntary offseason workouts without major injuries, star receiver Cooper Kupp appeared to regain his form, and coach Sean McVay and his staff were able to evaluate young players as they approached 2024 A.D. — the season after Aaron Donald retired.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, however, remained at odds with the team over his contract. So McVay and Rams executives will attempt to compartmentalize anxiety and relax before players report to Loyola Marymount for training camp on July 23.

Some questions the Rams will need answered:

Will Matthew Stafford show up?

Stafford participated in voluntary offseason workouts, and coaches and teammates said there were no signs he was unnerved or distracted.

Stafford is no doubt all for an escalating quarterback market but can't be overjoyed when comparing his contract to Detroit's Jared Goff and Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence, the latest to break the bank. If the Rams and Stafford cannot work things out before camp, Stafford could opt not to report regardless of fines.

That would be a ginormous distraction for McVay and the players. With backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suspended for the first two games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, Stetson Bennett would be on track to make his NFL debut in the season opener at Detroit.

If Stafford reports and his contract issues remain unresolved, McVay and other players will be asked about it every day. And Stafford — who has not spoken to reporters who cover the Rams since January — also will face questions at every availability.

How to compensate for loss of Aaron Donald

Second-year pro Kobie Turner is the main building block new defensive coordinator Chris Shula has to compensate for the loss of the pillar that was Donald.

The Rams drafted Florida edge rusher Jared Verse in the first round and Seminoles tackle Braden Fiske in the second. The former teammates showed signs of their familiarity and nonverbal communication during workouts, coaches said. Nose tackle Bobby Brown III has lacked consistency but is in a contract year.

Edge Byron Young had eight sacks last season as a rookie, and veteran Michael Hoecht can play outside and inside.

Outside linebacker Brennan Jackson and lineman Tyler Davis are rookies who must show they can contribute, along with second-year pros Ochaun Mathis and Nick Hampton.

Is Kyren Williams' foot injury healed?

Williams, who made the Pro Bowl last season, sat out nearly all team on-field activities during the offseason program because of a foot injury. He participated in a couple of jog-throughs in the final weeks and said he would be ready for training camp.

Rookie Blake Corum impressed during an expanded opportunity because of Williams' absence but the Rams are counting on Williams to repeat or surpass his 2023 performance, when he rushed for 1,144 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

Ronnie Rivers, Boston Scott and Zach Evans are other running backs.


Can Steve Avila move seamlessly from guard to center?

Avila, a second-round pick in 2023, played well at left guard as a rookie. The Rams opted not to re-sign center Coleman Shelton, believing Avila could handle the added responsibilities of directing the entire line.

Avila utilized his size and displayed his intelligence and personality during offseason workouts. But that was without pads, contact or real game speed.

Avila will be flanked by plenty of experience, including left guard Jonah Jackson, right guard Kevin Dotson, left tackle Alaric Jackson and right tackle Rob Havenstein.

When will Tyler Higbee return?

Higbee, the Rams' mainstay at tight end since 2016, suffered a major knee injury in January after a brutal hit in a playoff defeat at Detroit. He is not expected to be ready until after midseason.

The Rams signed Colby Parkinson, who played four seasons for Seattle, and also have second-year pro Davis Allen and Hunter Long.

Parkinson caught 25 passes last season, Allen 10.

Will the defensive backfield come together quickly?

The Rams added four players to a secondary that could see third-year safety Quentin Lake take on a major role.

Cornerback Darious Williams is back for another stint with the Rams. Cornerback Tre'Davious White, who played seven seasons for the Buffalo Bills, is coming off an Achilles injury that limited him almost exclusively to rehab work during the offseason program.

Safety Kamren Curl joined the Rams after four seasons in Washington. Rookie Kamren Kinchens was a playmaker in college at Miami.

What about the kicker?

After last season's kicking woes, the Rams used a sixth-round pick to select Joshua Karty.

The former Stanford standout showed during offseason workouts he's capable of consistently making field-goal attempts with no real pressure.

Now he must prove to McVay and the Rams he can do it facing a full rush and during preseason games before getting a real test in the opener at Detroit.


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