IRVINE, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams open 2021 NFL training camp on July 28 at University of California-Irvine. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
Is Matthew Stafford the quarterback that coach Sean McVay needs to make his offense go and does he have the talent around him to succeed?
The Rams’ offense has been in steady decline following a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII and the hope is Stafford will be the catalyst in turning it around with his leadership, throwing ability and experience. Through 12 seasons in Detroit, Stafford became the all-time leader in every meaningful Lions passing category but did not win a playoff game in three appearances. In L.A., Stafford will not only be able to rely on his own talent, but his arrival has injected energy into McVay as a playcaller. Stafford will be surrounded by playmakers, including receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and DeSean Jackson and tight end Tyler Higbee, but there could be depth issues in the backfield.
Can coordinator Raheem Morris keep the defense at the top of the NFL?
When Brandon Staley departed after one season to become the Los Angeles Chargers‘ head coach, he left behind the NFL’s top-ranked defense as well as a plethora of talent. Morris, who has 18 years of NFL coaching experience, will maintain Staley’s system and add some of his own tweaks, though he will be tasked with developing some young talent after the departure of veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III. However, Morris’ unit still boasts three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, making it an early favorite to be among — if not the best — in the NFL.
After trading two first-round picks for Stafford, are the Rams again in Super-Bowl-or-bust mode?
Absolutely. Super Bowl LVI will be played on Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium and the Rams want to take center stage in front of a sold-out L.A. crowd. The Rams’ Super Bowl window opened entering the 2018 season and it was initially expected to close rapidly, but Rams general manager Les Snead found a way to expand its lifespan into 2021 by completing blockbuster deals, including trades for Ramsey and Stafford, that signal a win-now mentality. With Donald and Ramsey in their prime, the addition of Stafford, plus an experienced supporting cast, the Rams are among favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy.
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After playing in a running back committee last season, Akers emerged as a breakout back in the final two months of the season, rushing for 561 yards and three touchdowns over the final two months, including the playoffs. However, during a workout ahead of training camp, Akers ruptured his Achilles tendon. The Rams are expected to move third-year pro Darrell Henderson Jr. into the starting spot. Last season, in a running back committee, Henderson rushed for 624 yards and five touchdowns on 138 carries and caught 16 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. During training camp, the Rams will test several unproven undrafted free agents and late-round picks behind Henderson, including Xavier Jones, Raymond Calais, Jake Funk and Otis Anderson. Rams coach Sean McVay said the team has not ruled out the possibility of looking outside the organization for a veteran back.