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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Gilberto Manzano

Rams’ Young Defense Makes Strong Impression in Joint Practice With Raiders

Fights tend to overshadow joint scrimmages, and there was another one Wednesday that involved Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby and Rams running back Cam Akers. But there was a lot more to see during the first of two joint scrimmages between the two NFL teams.

For this story, let’s focus on four observations about the Rams (Here’s more about what we saw from the Raiders on Wednesday).

O.K., let’s get to it.

1) I was hoping to see how Aaron Donald and his many inexperienced defensive teammates would play versus the Raiders’ starting offense, but Donald received a rest day. Perhaps this was better. Donald can take away blocks from his teammates on the defensive line and his pressure can assist his defensive backs from not having to cover for a long time, but he can’t do everything for a young starting defense that will likely experience plenty of growing pains throughout the season. For this point, let’s focus on the defensive front, specifically 2023 third-round picks Byron Young and Kobie Turner, who are expected to start. Young, a 6'2", 250-pound edge rusher, flashed early by creating pressure and making practice harder for Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Young notched seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss in his final collegiate season with Tennessee.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Young had a slow start to training camp, but he’s impressed Rams coach Sean McVay in the past week. “Consistent get off,” McVay told reporters after practice. “He showed up a handful of times today.” Turner, a defensive tackle, also had his moments, and found himself in the backfield on a play that had the inside linebackers rushing the quarterback.

2) Rams rookie cornerback Tre’Vius Tomlinson received plenty of lessons defending Raiders star wide receiver Davante Adams on the outside. The 5'9", 180-pound Tomlinson lost a few times being left on an island against one of the game’s best wideouts, but Tomlinson often made it difficult for Adams to complete the acrobatic grabs. The sixth-round rookie scored a memorable win after he broke up a connection between Garoppolo and Adams in the left corner of the end zone during a two-minute drill. A few plays earlier, Garoppolo found Adams on a similar play vs. Tomlinson to move the Raiders into the red zone. It’s a good sign that the rookie cornerback doesn’t dwell on his losses. “What a great opportunity to go up against one of the best,” McVay said.

3) Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford could have more weapons this season outside of star wide receiver Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee. Stafford distributed the ball to wide receivers Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua, the fifth-round rookie who has impressed many this summer. Nacua has been filling in for the injured Kupp, who’s expected to return soon, but the rookie made more plays Wednesday, and he might find himself with snaps come the regular season. The Rams have also received steady production from veteran wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Tyler Johnson. With more options at wideout, perhaps this puts Ben Skowronek on the 53-man roster bubble. But Skowronek also contributes on special teams, and occasionally at fullback. His ability at multiple spots could help this time of year, but the Rams will have some tough decisions to make at wide receiver before cutdown day.

4) For Stafford and the Rams offense to have a bounce-back season, they’re going to need the offensive line to stay healthy and play much better than it did last season. They had a rough start Wednesday vs. Crosby, who found himself in Stafford’s space often. Currently, Alaric Jackson has the edge for the left tackle job over Joe Noteboom, who’s making a lot more money than Jackson. Noteboom is also dealing with an injury and didn’t participate in team drills vs. the Raiders. The Rams are also counting on rookie guard Steve Avila to help on the interior of the offensive line. “For the most part, I had some time back there,” Stafford told reporters after practice. “Now Crosby is a heck of a player. He was in the backfield a few times. … I gotta watch the tape.”

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