Rams healthy to start season thanks to Sean McVay’s plan
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay has been more cautious than most of his peers in how he has used his starters during the preseason.
The starting offense, save for right guard Jamon Brown, will not play at all in the four exhibition games. The starting defense, save for outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, made a brief appearance in the third preseason game Saturday.
Whether that approach will cause problems once the season starts remains to be seen. It’s worked out in at least one respect, as McVay said Monday the Rams are on track to be healthy for their season opener at Oakland on Sept. 10. And players have been happy with McVay’s caution, with running back Todd Gurley saying he was living “everyone’s dream” by not playing in the preseason.
McVay seemingly felt so comfortable about the strength of his team that he made an unprompted reference to defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s ongoing holdout.
“We’re right on track with guys like (linebacker) Mark Barron that we have talked about. Everybody else we anticipate that we’re kind of projecting as a starter is ready to go. Obviously, the big question is will 99 (Donald) be a part of that thing or not? But we’re in a good place right now. Certainly we’ve got a lot of work to do in the meantime,” McVay said.
The Rams, who are seeking to defend their first NFC West title since 2003, will continue to hold out starters and key reserves for their preseason finale at New Orleans on Thursday.
McVay put defensive lineman Dominique Easley and outside linebacker Matt Longacre in that group. Easley did not play last season because of a torn ACL in his right knee, and Longacre missed most of training camp because of a biceps injury after undergoing back surgery last season.
Both Easley and Longacre are expected to play major roles this season with the Rams still unsettled on the edge opposite Ekubam in their 3-4 defense. McVay was glad to see both get on the field against Houston because it was a milestone in their recoveries.
“It was good for both those players to get some snaps, and now we’ll implement a program that we feel like is going to be sustainable throughout the course of the season, but we won’t expect to see them this week,” McVay said.
Tight end Gerald Everett, who sustained the most notable injury of training camp when he hurt his shoulder, is in line to play against the Raiders. McVay said Everett is running routes again, and the second-year South Alabama product was able to maintain his conditioning despite being in a sling for several weeks.
The only lingering question in terms of health is the status of outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. McVay said the fifth-round pick from Oklahoma is likely to start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list after sustaining a foot injury during offseason workouts that required surgery. Starting the season with that designation would prevent Okoronkwo from practicing or playing for the first six weeks.
“I would say not anything that he can control, but I think just the way the foot has responded hasn’t been ideal. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way that he has worked,” McVay said.
Without major injury concerns, McVay has been able to focus on how to construct the 53-man roster and the 46-man game day roster. Putting together contingency plans in case of injury during the regular season is also a priority for McVay, whether that comes from the composition of the practice squad or from identifying players that could return as free agents.
“Unfortunately, like we’ve talked about, injuries are an inevitable part of this thing and we’ve always got to have those contingency plans in place, but we feel good about a lot of the spots right now,” McVay said.
While the Rams look to have their starting lineups set, McVay said many of his conversations with general manager Les Snead at this time of year center on players around the league that could be cut by other teams and how they might fit in.
“If they end up hitting the waiver wire, do they give us an upgrade or do we feel good about the spots? And, fortunately, most of the spots and situations and positions that we’re in, we feel good about the guys that we have in our building,” McVay said. “Hopefully we’ll stay healthy and be able to work with those guys.”