On the surface, and especially if you take preseason too seriously, the performance of the Los Angeles Rams was certainly disheartening. But for those of us that love the sport of American football and respect the entire process of how young players go about making their dreams come true, these are among the best of times. Mainly, for the undrafted free agents (UDFAs). The lesser-known players that may have been heroes only locally or the unknowns with little attention at all. They now hope to extend their fight to better, and in many cases, completely change their lives and the future of their families. Heading into the Rams preseason Week Two game in Hawaii against the Dallas Cowboys, several hopeful young players look forward to more opportunities to continue dreaming.
Here’s a silver lining or two with what I believe to be a few hidden Rams gems with such hope. And hope, despite whatever The Eurythmics were singing about back then, is what sweet dreams are made of.
Los Angeles Rams Preseason Week Two: Players to Watch
Sure, the Rams were outscored by the Oakland Raiders Week One in a game that wasn’t worth winning over knowing more about the future, 14-3. Outscored but not outplayed for four quarters.
First, consider that the Raiders (including the coaching staff) had much more to play for. After all the hoopla of signing possibly the most wanted head coach of the past decade in Jon Gruden subsided, it’s been downhill ever since. Now with Hard Knocks cameras rolling, trust me, Oakland wanted and needed the win.
For a team and coaching staff with less ego, no cameras 24/7 and seemingly a brighter future long term all things considered, the Rams preseason Week Two is where the fun starts. A trip to Hawaii may be just what the doctor ordered for inspiration — if beating America’s Team isn’t enough.
Silver Lining’s Playbook
Taylor Rapp’s The Real Deal
Numbers don’t always tell complete stories and this is especially true in the preseason. Taylor Rapp recorded just two total tackles and broke up one pass. However, although he still looked somewhat unpolished, Rapp looked like a natural.
As advertised, his versatility is apparent. However, I was more impressed with his natural instincts, confidence and quick thinking. This makes his read-react timing above average as rookies go. With run pursuit and stopping said to be his main strength, he definitely held his own in the passing game against receivers with more experience. He’s a smart player in the hands of a much smarter player, Eric Weddle, and can only improve. There’s no doubt at this point that Rapp is the future of the franchise at the safety position.
Unsettled Linebacker Battle: Underdogs Gain Ground
Neither starter at linebacker, Cory Littleton or Clay Matthews, played Week One. So Rams fans got to see a good dose of talent currently in question. This included Micah Kiser. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who potentially backs-up edge/linebackers Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam, was still physically unready to the growing suspicions of fans.
Kiser, truth be told, is not ready for a starting role. Perhaps, not even second-string after Week One. He looked apprehensive and, at times, a bit uninterested is seizing his moment considering he was inserted as a starter. He is now in the unenviable position of watching his own footage and admitting to self that self needs to step up big time.
At least two other linebackers made the most of their opportunities. For a third, it was business as usual.
— Delaware Football (@DelawareFB) August 11, 2019
Now in his fifth year (two years of actual stat production), Bryce Hager looked like the solid and dependable back-up linebacker he’s been the previous two seasons. However, two new players made their presence felt as well.
Dakota Allen, who usually looks discouraged in appearance, appeared to improve and grow in confidence the longer he played. He proved he’s not afraid of contact and there is upside there that could threaten the position of someone from the 2018 roster.
Enter Troy Reeder
Who? What? Where?
Troy Reeder, a two-year transferred linebacker out of Penn State, is the first of three surprising standouts here. Reeder, who Pro Football Reference has yet to include in their professional football database at the time of this writing, led all Rams and Raiders players in tackles (eight total, six solo, topping both categories). Additionally, he’s done this at his alma mater and it’s not as big a surprise to the University of Delaware alumni. I can tell you that I was hugely but pleasantly surprised at the education I received watching him.
Rams fans wanting the gist of his evening need only to re-watch one of their team’s worst lowlights. During Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman’s 50-yard Steve Young impression, Reeder is the big guy you see come into your screen outrunning (or out-hustling) lighter teammates. Don’t be surprised if the speedy ex-Ram, Grant Wistrom, comes to mind. As of now, he’s penciled way above Kiser on my personal depth chart.
The Shift (and Improvement) in Quarterback Depth
Brandon Allen, who the Rams have signed, waived, got back, cut, and re-acquired since 2017, is likely in his final stint with the team. With that much time already and after his Week One performance, upside was not recognized Saturday. He completed 50 percent of his passes (6/12 for 34 yards, and the only Rams quarterback sacked) and looked rather vanilla with a 2.8 yards per average.
John Wolford, behind Allen on the depth chart, was clearly a better third-string fit. In fact, he was the Rams best quarterback statistically (6/8 for 54 yards with 6.8 yards per and a 92.7 rating).
Blake Bortles (3/8 for 50 yards, 6.3 yards per and 59.4 yards per) played only a couple of series and considering how the game got out of hand early he did nothing to deserve any less than the main back-up at this time.
More Attention to Tight Ends Would Be a Plus
The Rams brain trust may have assembled its best combined camp collection of tight end talent this lifelong fan has ever seen on the roster. I was hoping to get a better look at it than I did against the Raiders. It’s early yet so there’s time.
Third-year back-up/extra, Johnny Mundt, and camp 2019 camp invitee, Romello Brooker, were the only tight ends to receive at least one target Saturday. Rams fans familiar with Mundt probably didn’t see anything of a surprise. His lone reception (on four targets) for 23 yards placed him fourth-best in Week One. He appeared to look as confident as I’ve ever seen him. That said, he’s still third-string with three talented players with possibly more upside behind him.
One such player, Romello Brooker, might have caught his first professionally-competitive pass if not for Wolford’s worst throw. As a senior, Brooker caught my seasoned but unpaid scouting eye both with and without the ball. This tenacious University of Houston standout can certainly lay the wood when teammates gets the spotlight. I can’t help but hope others get to see this in Los Angeles.
Missouri star tight end Kendall Blanton (supposedly on the New England Patriots radar last spring) played behind Mundt but didn’t receive targets. Frankly, he had minutes he (and us fans) might choose to forget. At least this week, Brooker leapfrogs him on my depth chart.
In any case, expect more from this talented bunch.
53-Man Roster Code: UDFAs Who Could Crack It
Here’s a brief note on the players definitely deserving more playing time Week Two:
As mentioned earlier, I walked away from Saturday’s game with three sure-fire standouts. Troy Reeder was the first. The second and third are both defensive backs. Considering the Rams have now failed to score a single touchdown in their last nine quarters, no surprise at all three are on defense.
Jake Gervase, listed as a strong safety out of Iowa, finished with five total tackles (3 solo). More than that, he seemed to always appear in the picture all over the field, a good indication of more hustle on this year’s squad. Listed fourth, he’s not about to threaten John Johnson III or Taylor Rapp but is pushing to overtake third-string Steven Parker.
Second-year cornerback Darious Williams (signed after the Baltimore Ravens waived him) is definitely a name to watch. In watching him, I found myself uttering the same words I uttered seeing Johnson play his first preseason minutes. “Whoa. This guy can open-field tackle!” He finished third with six total and non-assisted tackles. Dominique Hatfield posted the interception but Williams was the standout in this position battle.
Give them a look as they help to secure the Rams preseason Week Two victory.