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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Albert Breer

A New Defensive Leader Emerges at Rams’ Training Camp

Back end of our two-a-days here in Orange County, with my Saturday night Rams takeaways …

1) Maybe the most noticeable thing (or one of two most noticeable things, we’ll get to the other in a minute) out here was seeing healthy, reenergized superstars Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald. Stafford is wearing a sleeve over his right arm, but he told me this is the best he’s felt in three years, and you can see it in the way he’s practicing. And Donald looks like, well, Aaron Donald. This is an exceedingly young team, of course, and there’ll be bumps, but it’s hard to imagine a team with those two guys firing on all cylinders wouldn’t be competitive week-to-week.

Rams linebacker Ernest Jones is only entering his third NFL season, but he qualifies as a veteran leader on a young defense.

Ryan Sun/AP

2) Third-year linebacker Ernest Jones looks like he’s taking another step from a leadership standpoint. Jones has got the green dot on his helmet, and will be controlling traffic from his inside linebacker spot. His job will be important, too, with (again) all the youth on the roster, and turnover at spots around him in the front seven.

3) Left tackle Joe Noteboom has come back strong from his Achilles injury, and that’s great news for an offensive line group that still needs some things sorted out. Noteboom still has to win the job from Alaric Jackson—left tackle is one of three spots on the team’s line, along with center and right guard, open for competition—but having two potential answers at the most important spot is a definite positive. Between that and the addition of rookie Steve Avila to the mix, new line coach Ryan Wendell has a fighting chance to turn around a unit that really struggled last year.

4) The running back room had its issues in general in 2022, but that’s another spot where there should be a turnaround. Cam Akers has had a nice start to camp, and second-year man Kyren Williams has managed to turn heads for the second straight summer—his rookie year was short-circuited by a broken foot Williams suffered just before the season began. The Rams see a lot of James White in Williams’s game, and that sort of player fits nicely as a complement to the bruising Akers.

5) O.K., now we can get back to the second noticeable thing from Saturday’s practice. At one point, Sean McVay blew the horn and brought the team together, and addressed them all at once. It looked almost as if practice was over and, timing-wise, the team was at that point of the schedule. But instead of ending it, McVay extended the practice for another half-hour or so, which to me is a sign of where the team is. It’s a young, new group, and that’s brought energy both on the roster (especially in turned-over areas like the secondary, where Derion Kendrick, Cobie Durant and Russ Yeast are playing prominent roles) and the coaching staff (with Wendell and Nick Caley bringing Patriots background under new OC Mike LaFleur). But it’s also meant there’s a lot of learning going on. And sometimes, that means staying late to do it.

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