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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.”

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  • 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, 11:59 AM
  • RamDez
    Sebastian Joseph-Day’s time is now
    by RamDez
    Sebastian Joseph-Day’s time is now

    Stu Jackson


    Sebastian Joseph-Day's hard work is about to be rewarded after grinding behind the scenes over the past several months.

    The second-year defensive tackle won the starting nose tackle battle during training camp and will be making his first career start Sunday at Carolina.

    “Just excited, man. Words can’t explain,” Joseph-Day said. “Such a big opportunity, such an awesome opportunity. It’s a blessing. Just ready, ready to go to work.”
    Sunday’s game, specifically the role in front of him, has been a long time coming.

    A 2018 sixth-round pick, Joseph-Day spent all 16 regular-season games – plus the Rams’ three postseason games – during his rookie on the inactive list. However, opportunity knocked this spring.

    Los Angeles’ previous starting nose tackle, Ndamukong Suh, had only signed a one-year deal last offseason. When it expired, he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent.

    Still, even with Suh’s departure, Joseph-Day knew being a starter wasn’t a given, so he did everything he could to increase his chances of getting the job. He worked with head team dietician Joey Blake to improve his nutrition, then wrote down everything he was told he needed to work on and collaborated with the strength staff to make that happen.

    “They did an outstanding job,” Joseph-Day said. “A lot of the credit goes out to the strength staff and goes out to Joey. Just working on those things daily, then when OTAs came, the same thing. Still being on top of those minute things you need to work on as a defensive lineman and still training at the same time.”
    His mindset and attitude caught the attention of, and have even inspired, his teammates.

    “Hard-working, exciting guy,” second-year center Brian Allen said. “He’s someone who’s always going to do the right thing, someone who’s always doing extra work. That’s something you see and it drives you, knowing other guys are working hard. Hard-worker, he’s going to do his job.”

    Joseph-Day gets a formidable first test in the Panthers’ offensive line.

    Despite the departure of starting center Ryan Kalil, his replacement Matt Paradis and the rest of the unit were regarded by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s 10th-best heading into 2019.

    This is what Joseph-Day has been preparing for all along, though, so he probably wouldn’t want it any other way.

    “It’s a great challenge because they are solid on their interior line, but it’s really a great opportunity for him to get a chance at some of his first real live game action,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “If he continues to just carry over where he’s left off from what he’s done in training camp from the offseason program, we are expecting a lot of positive things from Sebastian.”...
    -09-05-2019, 01:06 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, 08:49 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....
    -08-11-2019, 10:36 AM
  • RamDez
    Allen, Noteboom embrace challenges
    by RamDez
    Allen, Noteboom embrace challenges that will come with first NFL starts

    Stu Jackson


    Sometimes, drinking straight from the firehose is the best way to learn.

    That will be the case Sunday at Carolina for Rams second-year offensive linemen Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom, who step into Los Angeles’ regular-season opener with big shoes to fill against what is poised to be one of the NFL's strongest interior defensive lines.

    “You wouldn’t really want anybody else,” Noteboom said. “They’ve got (DT) Gerald McCoy, (DT) Kawann Short, so it’s no easy task, but you wouldn’t want an easy game the first game. It’s a good one to come out to.”

    Both Noteboom and Allen will be replacing two key contributors from last year’s squad.

    Allen will start at center in place of John Sullivan, who started 31 games at center for Los Angeles over the last two seasons but was let go in the spring. Noteboom, meanwhile, will fill the void at left guard created by Rodger Saffold’s departure to the Tennessee Titans this offseason.

    While both players will be starting for the first time, they don’t lack experience. Allen appeared in 13 games during his rookie season in 2018, while Noteboom saw action in all 16 plus all three of the Rams’ playoff games last year.

    The rest of the starters – LT Andrew Whitworth, RG Austin Blythe, and RT Rob Havenstein – have a combined 272 starts, led by Whitworth’s 195.

    That collective experience could be intimidating for a newcomer at arguably the most critical position along the offensive line, but Allen has made a point to be assertive.

    “I’ve got to be loud, I’ve got to be making sure everyone’s on the same page,” Allen said. “Even if we’re wrong, being wrong together. I think that’s one thing that young guys will do, is get in there and if there’s something they don’t know, they’re going to be quiet or hesitant. With me, I’m making the call and we’re going whether it’s right or wrong.”
    Los Angeles chose to rest the majority of its starters for the second straight preseason, a decision that received careful consideration.

    Ultimately, the experience they gained as rookies and the reps they received in joint practices against the Raiders and Chargers during training camp appeared to be enough.

    “Not much,” Noteboom said when asked what changes shifting from that approach into the regular season. “Just know, when you’re preparing, you don’t have another day of practice to get back. In training camp, you have a bad day, you can come in and fix it, but now, you’ve got to prepare like it’s a game every day. Just be prepared, studying more than ever, working hard.”

    Carolina’s interior defensive line is giving him and Allen plenty to prepare for.

    McCoy, a six-time Pro-Bowler, has amassed 54.5 career sacks, all during his first nine seasons in the...
    -09-05-2019, 01:08 AM