Training Camp Tour: Rams' top-tier defensive line continues to impress
IRVINE, Calif. – The Rams return to Los Angeles this season, but without a permanent team facility in place to handle their practices initially, training camp practices are being held on the campus of UC Irvine. The Rams’ practices have a distinctive Southern California feel to them with the sun shining, Disneyland close by, and the HBO cameras and microphones everywhere capturing footage for the show Hard Knocks. This was the final stop on the PFF training camp tour, and we saved one of the best players in the NFL for last.
Defensive line is loaded with talent
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was PFF’s highest-graded player in 2015. His blend of quickness, natural leverage (short by NFL standards, but with long arms for his height), and instincts helped him to finish the 2015 season as our top-graded defensive tackle in run defense and as a pass-rusher. Donald is the main reason the Rams’ front-seven owns a ranking of No. 4 in the league, but he is also surrounded by talent.
Robert Quinn’s overall grade of 83.3 last season put him at No. 20 among 4-3 defensive ends, while William Hayes’s overall grade of 85.8 ranked No. 13. Thus far in the preseason, Dominique Easley looks like the incredibly-disruptive interior defender we saw coming out of Florida. On a per-snap, basis Easley was actually a more productive pass-rusher than Aaron Donald in 2015. If Easley continues his impressive play, the combination of he and Donald inside will prove to be a difficult matchup every week for opposing offensive lines.
QB battle continues, but L.A. still a run-first team
The Rams’ quarterback group ranked 28th in our positional rankings. No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff is supposed to take over the starting job at some point, and hopefully can lift the Rams in this regard. For now, though, the battle between veteran Case Keenum and Goff for the Rams’ starting quarterback duty is one of our 10 preseason position battles to watch.
Currently, Keenum is still the Rams’ starter, and he received the bulk of first-team reps at Monday’s practice, but Goff’s velocity and ball placement really stand out, so this is really a matter of when—not if—Goff passes Keenum and becomes the Rams’ first-string QB. Unfortunately for Goff, his two preseason showings have been a bit rough, as he took some big hits in his first game and had two self-inflicted fumbles in his second outing. While Goff should continue to improve, the Rams will still be a run-first team in 2016.
The Rams’ running back group is deep and stands at No. 6 in our positional-group rankings. Todd Gurley is the Rams’ best offensive player at this point, and one of the better young running backs in the league. Rams running back Malcolm Brown and Benny Cunningham have both made plays coming off the bench. In their last preseason game against the Chiefs, Brown had 12 carries and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt, forcing two missed tackles, while fellow running back Benny Cunningham carried the ball four times and averaged 9.5 yards per carry.
Other camp notes
– The Rams’ top trio of wide receivers—Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and rookie Pharoh Cooper—all made plays in practice. They also took turns catching tennis balls thrown over their shoulder to improve tracking ability and eye-hand coordination. Former Bills great wide receiver Andre Reed was a VIP guest at practice, and took some time out to give tips to the Rams’ wide receiver group.
– On one of the earlier episodes of Hard Knocks, William Hayes stated that he believes that mermaids are real. On Monday, an Ariel-imposter showed up to practice in full mermaid costume to try and get his attention.
– The sound of the airhorn that signified the end of practice for the Rams also signified the end of the road for the PFF training camp tour. On behalf of every PFF analyst that took part in the tour, we hope you enjoyed the coverage of all 32 training camps leading up to the season. It’s time to get down to the business of football season now, and hopefully we will see some of you out on next year’s tour.