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Undrafted rookie seizes moment as depth players get experience in preseason opener

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  • Undrafted rookie seizes moment as depth players get experience in preseason opener

    An undrafted rookie seizes his moment as depth players get experience in Rams’ preseason opener
    By Vincent Bonsignore Aug 11, 2019 2

    OAKLAND, Calif. — A moment of clarity arrived for Landis Durham in the early hours of Saturday morning in Napa, Calif., of all places. It’s about as far away as you can imagine from Plano, Texas, the hometown of the Rams’ outside linebacker. But when you’re an undrafted rookie free agent just trying to open enough eyes to make a team, you don’t quibble about logistics when powerful forces descend on your behalf.

    So Durham didn’t argue or question or doubt the confidence he awoke with at the Rams’ hotel ahead of their preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders.

    “When I woke up this morning I just had a feeling,” Durham said hours later, trying to find the right words to explain it.

    He didn’t have to, really. The seven tackles he came up with Saturday night against the Raiders, including a sack he’s been dreaming about his whole life, were more than enough clarification.

    Saturday night was not a particularly good one for the Rams in a sluggish 14-3 loss to the Raiders. It wasn’t exactly set up to be, given Sean McVay’s decision to play only backup players, except for two projected defensive starters. He wasn’t trying to win as much as he was trying to keep his key players healthy, and in that regard it was a successful night.

    On the other hand, while the scoreboard took a back seat to the safety of his starters, there were opportunities for a bunch of young Rams to state their cases as backups and special-teams contributors and even rotational pieces this year.

    Durham among them.

    He woke up with an inkling that something big was in store. By nightfall, he had seized his moment as one of the Rams’ defensive bright spots. Time will tell what it means for his future, but given how Justin Lawler recently went down with a foot injury and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has been banged up throughout training camp, an opportunity has opened for a job behind outside linebackers Dante Fowler Jr., Clay Matthews and Samson Ebukam.

    Durham, with his size (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) and speed and obvious nose for the ball, planted himself firmly on the Rams’ radar Saturday with his performance.

    “I thought he did a nice job tonight. You felt him on a couple of plays,” said McVay, who also pointed out Josh Carraway and Trevon Young, both of whom are in the mix at outside linebacker,

    “With Lawler being down it’s really a good look to see who establishes themselves as that fourth outside linebacker behind Clay, Dante and Samson. There’s going to be some good things to look at from that group.”

    Durham was still trying to process everything afterward.

    “It’s crazy man, just being in this moment,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been playing football for my whole life. To come in here in this historic stadium — you know, a football field and a baseball field at the same time — that ****’s crazy. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

    “There’s a lot I still have to work on. I look forward to getting back to meetings and everything, watching film. But It was a whole bunch of fun out there.”

    Mixed night for young linemen
    The Rams opted not to play new starting offensive linemen Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom, who have held down the center and left guard positions, respectively, in place of departed veterans John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold.

    That was a clear vote of confidence from the Rams’ coaching staff, which wanted to evaluate Allen and Noteboom over the last two weeks in joint-practice settings against the Chargers and Raiders before making a determination whether the second-year players needed preseason reps. That they watched from the sidelines means they are making the necessary progress.

    “We felt good about the work that they got this week and really talking to them,” McVay said. “Where’s their mindset? Those guys are always going to be players that want to compete but I think they felt like they’re in a good place.”

    That created a long night for the Rams’ very young offensive line backup hopefuls, the majority of whom are rookies or second-year players. In fact, only center/guard Aaron Neary has played NFL snaps among the Rams’ reserve linemen, and that occurred two years ago. Neary, it should be noted, will not be available for the first four games of this season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

    So, barring any moves between now and the start of the regular season, the Rams will have an extremely young and inexperienced offensive line reserve group.

    That means the snaps that group got on Saturday — including rookie tackles Bobby Evans and David Edwards and second-year guard/center/tackle Jamil Demby and guard Jeremiah Kolone — were incredibly valuable.

    That’s because those players are going through a transition to the NFL, and because the Rams’ coaches have to decide how comfortable they are going into a season with so much uncertainty behind their starting offensive line.

    As expected, Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was aggressive in mixing up the unit into the third quarter. Edwards, a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin, got the starting nod at left tackle while Evans, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, got the nod at right tackle, but then they flipped spots in the second quarter.

    Aside from a holding call assessed to Edwards in the first quarter and Evans getting beat on a speed rush by Raiders defensive end Arden Key for a sack, both rookies acquitted themselves fairly well for their first go-around.

    Edwards was projected as a second-round pick in the 2018 draft but opted to return to Wisconsin for his senior year. A lingering shoulder injury last season hampered his play, and his stock fell as a result. He dropped to the fifth round, where the Rams happily secured him. His size, athletic ability and technical aspects are all apparent, and he flashed them often in a productive debut. He needs to get bigger and stronger, but the tools are there to work with and he’ll benefit from the tutelage of Kromer.

    For Edwards, the walk-up to Saturday’s game during joint practices with the Chargers and Raiders proved to be invaluable.

    “I felt like I got my feet wet in terms of playing like game-like situations against the Chargers and Raiders,” he said. “So I felt comfortable coming into tonight.”

    Likewise, Evans appears to have an NFL future and will go into the Kromer lab this year intent on being ready to assume a bigger role down the road. For now, though, he appears a step or two behind Edwards in the development process and it showed in the struggles he had on some pass- and run-block assignments. Evans is a bit short for a tackle at 6-4 and it’s still unclear whether he profiles better at tackle or guard. There is plenty of time to get that figured out, though, including three more preseason games.

    The question the Rams will have to eventually ask is, how comfortable are they going into a season with the two rookies being one snap away from potentially becoming starters?

    Taylor Rapp shines
    The Rams selected safety Taylor Rapp in the second round last April out of Washington and envisioned him making an immediate impact as a sub-package rotational piece.

    He has not disappointed thus far in training camp, as he quickly showed up as a solid cover safety on tight ends and running backs and as a run stopper when deployed closer to the line of scrimmage. Rapp has looked poised and confident with each new responsibility the Rams have put on his plate, and by last week he was getting first-team reps in some nickel and dime packages.

    “His last week has been outstanding,” McVay said. “I think he’s really getting the confidence where he knows exactly what’s going on and is able to make the seamless adjustments with whatever defensive call that we’ve activated and it’s been really, we’re seeing the guy we loved so much watching tape at Washington and he’s really starting to play where he’s not thinking, he’s just reacting, and that’s what makes him a special player.”

    It’s no surprise, then, that Rapp had a strong first game, being exactly where he needed to be in pass coverage and run support while knocking a pass away and coming up with an open-field tackle to deny the Raiders first downs on a pair of third-down plays.

    In both instances, his awareness of situational football was apparent.

    “It’s very important. I learned that when I first got to college,” he said. “It just elevates your game so much just being aware of down, distance and sticks. All that stuff. Concepts that can come out of different down and distances.”

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    Rookie Joseph Noteboom could be the backup plan Rams desperately need
    by MauiRam
    NewRookie Joseph Noteboom could be the backup plan Rams desperately need

    By Vincent Bonsignore

    LOS ANGELES — By the time the ice hockey career of Joseph Noteboom topped out in the 11th grade, he was pushing 6-foot-5 and well over 250 pounds. He was a big, fast, tough defenseman whose skating skills defied his imposing frame. The job description was pretty simple: Go find the guy with the puck and crush him.

    Noteboom had a particular knack for spotting unsuspecting puck carriers along the boards and then hurling himself at them with all his size, strength and might. Pity the poor opposing player and plexiglass when he timed everything up just right. Which was often.

    “Oh yeah, for sure. I was a big guy so that was my job,” said Noteboom, his devilish grin about as chilling as you’d imagine.

    About the only thing more absurd than imagining a kid that big flying around an ice hockey rink was the location. When you think hockey, Plano, Texas doesn’t exactly come to mind. But then, who would have thought a town in the middle of Texas would catch the hockey bug like Plano did in the 2000s? But that’s exactly what happened deep in the heart of football country.

    Before you knew it, nearly every kid in the region wanted to be Sidney Crosby.

    Or in Noteboom’s case, Drew Doughty.

    “In my area (hockey is) really big,” Noteboom said. “There were at least five ice rinks within 10 miles.”

    The pull of football and a prolonged growth spurt meant hanging up the hockey skates for good. That decision more than six years ago was as easy as it was wise, and it has led him to Los Angeles, where he’s a rookie offensive linemen with the Rams.

    Now 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, Noteboom delivered a crisp, efficient performance in a 19-15 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday that, coupled with a strong training camp, gives the Rams hope they shrewdly uncovered a starting-caliber NFL lineman in the third round.

    Somehow a man as big as Noteboom went missing from the NFL’s draft radar last April over the first 88 picks, allowing the TCU standout to fall right to the very fortunate Rams at pick No. 89. They went into the draft needing to add youth and depth to a position that was top heavy and extraordinarily lucky last year. They left it with Noteboom, Maine tackle Jamil Demby and Michigan State centre Brian Allen.
    All three have played well enough to at least allow the Rams to ponder the possibility that they secured three potential future starters.

    That’s no small feat considering left tackle Andrew Whitworth is pushing 37, center John Sullivan is 33 and right tackle Rob Havenstein, left guard Rodger Saffold and right guard Jamon Brown are all free agents at the end of the season.

    The likelihood the Rams go through another season like 2016 essentially unscathed along the offensive line — they needed
    -08-21-2018, 10:59 AM
  • Nick
    With First OTAs Complete, Noteboom Feels Good About Progress
    by Nick
    With First OTAs Complete, Noteboom Feels Good About Progress
    Posted Jun 7, 2018
    Kristen Lago
    Rams Writer/Reporter

    In April, left tackle Joseph Noteboom was one of over 400 college prospects eager to make his dreams a reality by becoming a professional athlete. Now eight weeks later, a lot has changed for the TCU product.

    Not only was he selected by the Rams in the third-round of this year’s draft, but he has also completed his first set of OTAs in the NFL — marking a significant transition for the 22-year old.

    “[It was] pretty awesome,” Noteboom said. “The main difference has been being on your own. You’re not babied as much, so you have to be more accountable and responsible. But you learn quick. It’s the NFL — you do everything you can to stay here.”

    The three-week session was the left tackle’s first taste of playing in the league, something he says has been “pretty on par from what I thought” heading into it. And although the Rams’ high-speed offense is admittedly more detailed than his college scheme, Noteboom has been fortunate to learn from a talented group of linemen.

    Last season, the club’s offensive line was ranked among the best in the league and features one of the top tackles in the game in Andrew Whitworth. As he did in 2017, the 13-year veteran has made a point to take the younger players under his wing.

    “He’s really a laid-back guy, but really experienced,” Noteboom said. “He has these little details he can tell you about that no one really knows [and] he’s so willing to help us. It’s not like a waste of his time, he’s glad to help. Usually he comes up to us and tells us stuff.”

    But it’s not just the mentorship from the older vets that has surprised the rookie tackle. For Noteboom, one of the most exciting aspects of OTAs was getting to observe and learn from head coach Sean McVay.

    “I knew he was a good coach from what he did last year, but seeing him, he knows every position — their

    techniques, their footwork, everything like that,” he explained. “Just really impressed with him and seeing in person what a great coach he is.”

    And now that Noteboom has a feel for both the coaching staff and roster, he is hopeful that during the rest of the offseason his progress will come more steadily.

    “Just knowing the playbook front to back and knowing exactly what to do, so I don’t have to think about it so much,” Noteboom said of his offseason goals. “Just work on my technique from here on out.”
    -06-10-2018, 07:49 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Takeaways From Last Nights Game
    by r8rh8rmike
    It wasn't pretty, with lots of mistakes and way too many penalties, but that's what you're going to get with playing backups and rookies almost exclusively.

    Darrell Henderson didn't exactly light it up, but he showed a few flashes, despite not having much space to work in.

    Taylor Rapp stood out for me. He was active, aggressive, and looked like he knew what he was doing. He's got football savvy, a nose for the ball, and is one of those guys that gets it from the get go. I think he's going to be a great addition.

    Blake Bortles was solid. His stat line would have been much better without the drops.

    Love what I saw from John Wolford. He's a gamer. Can't wait to see more of him.

    KhaDeral Hodge had a nice game.

    It was good to see Morgan Fox back from injury and making some plays.

    Didn't expect to see a Proehl or a Kupp on the field, but there they were.

    No surprise to see Hekker in mid-season form, averaging 47.8 yards a punt. Brock Miller didn't look bad either, averaging 48.8.

    On to Honolulu next week against Dallas, where I like too see some improvement....
    1 week ago
  • MauiRam
    Boudreau discusses Rams' new-look OL
    by MauiRam
    Paul Boudreau Press Conference transcript

    Aug 11, 2015 | 10:54 am

    ST. LOUIS — Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau expressed his surprise following Monday’s evening practice session that a group of reporters would be interested in speaking with him.
    “Usually they talk to me after a bad sack day,” Boudreau joked.

    But the veteran line coach is in the spotlight this training camp as he works to get the Rams’ young and inexperienced group ready for the regular season.

    Four players who started up front for last season’s regular season opener are no longer with St. Louis. In their place are two rookies in right tackle Rob Havenstein and right guard Jamon Brown, one second-year player in left tackle Greg Robinson and the three players competing for the center spot, Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney.

    “We have a bunch of young guys just learning how to play and the good thing is we drafted guys that are smart and tough, so that’s the first thing, and it’s kind of jelling together,” Boudreau told reporters. “It’ll be a good example to see how we’ve taught Friday night and the work against Dallas is going to be invaluable. We get tired of hitting ourselves and it’s a new defense, a new style of defense. The big thing is every day, just don’t take a step back — you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same. Just try to keep working hard and find the good things and point them out.”

    The Rams will open the four-game preseason schedule on the road against the Oakland Raiders on Friday and then head to Oxnard, Ca., to have joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Those should help the young Rams — the coach noted that this is the deepest group they’ve had up front — get a good taste of what they are in for this season. But they are also getting good looks every day in practice against defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ group, which features one of the best defensive lines in the league.

    “We have more meeting time and we have more meetings, kind of walk-through meetings,” Boudreau said. “With Gregg’s defense, I don’t think they are going to face too much different as the course of the year goes along. He throws everything at you. The communication is the big thing, making sure you understand what the next guy to you is doing and making sure that even if we’re wrong we’re doing it the same way and we can adjust it.”

    Boudreau said the first challenge the youngsters will face when making the transition to the NFL is the speed of the game.

    He noted that while they may have faced a player the caliber of 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney in college, they wouldn’t have faced a player like that every single day like they will in the NFL.

    “The other thing is the way the movement is,” Boudreau said. “If you’re coming from a team that runs the read-option...
    -08-12-2015, 01:08 AM
  • Nick
    Rams’ 2019 draft reflects production over measurables: A player-by-player look
    by Nick
    Rams’ 2019 draft board reflects emphasis on production over measurables: A player-by-player look
    By Vincent Bonsignore Apr 27, 2019 6

    The​ Rams came into the​ 2019​ draft​ holding their only​ first-round pick since​ 2016 and​ with various​ holes to fill​ both presently​​ and for the future.

    They never got around to pulling the trigger on their first-round selection, opting to trade it away instead. They poured the assets they got in return into a handful of subsequent trades to steer themselves up and down the draft board to acquire eight players they believe will not only compete for roster spots but also lock down important roles.

    The common thread among them — and characteristics the Rams put a particular emphasis on at the earliest stage of the draft-evaluation process — is intelligent, tough, productive players with a passion to play football.

    Players who consistently show up on tape, if not always in physical measurables.

    So much so that general manager Les Snead has a written reminder to that effect on an office whiteboard.

    “The answers to your questions are basically right in front of you when you sit down and watch the kids play football on film when you do it December and April,” Snead said. “Take the testing — you always go back to the tape, right, and watch him play football.”

    It may sound cliché, but as a Rams source told The Athletic, “It’s where we’ve had so much success the past few years.”

    Their draft board this year reflects the emphasis they put on production over measurables.

    Washington safety Tayler Rapp ran a pedestrian 40 at his pro day. But his game tape showcased a hard-nosed, instinctual defensive playmaker. The Rams took him in the second round and believe he’ll compete for immediate playing time.

    Rapp’s teammate, Huskies defensive lineman Greg Gaines, is on the shorter side at just 6-foot-1. But he was one of the best run-stuffers in the Pac-12 and dominated against his peers at the Senior Bowl. The Rams traded up in the fourth round on Saturday to select him with the 134th pick overall and have already pegged him as their starting nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense.

    Their last pick, Texas Tech inside linebacker Dakota Allen, was kicked out of college after being arrested for burglary, then worked his way back to Lubbock after all charges were eventually dropped, and he has been a model citizen and productive player ever since.

    Where some teams removed Allen from their board altogether, the Rams sat down with him face-to-face and reached out to the people who know him best at Texas Tech.

    They were satisfied with how Allen owned his mistakes and impressed with how ardently people vouched for him. On tape, he was a tackling machine who they believe will add special teams flair and...
    -05-04-2019, 05:25 AM