THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — There’s no “oh s—, it’s getting real” moment like the practice after the first wave of cuts.
The Los Angeles Rams have to get down to 53 players by Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT, and waived 14 Monday on their way to that number. The preseason is over, and as the crowd of players on the field diminishes, the stakes rise.
So, too, has the scrutiny over two players in particular, after a publicly bumpy preseason for both: offensive lineman Joe Noteboom and backup quarterback Stetson Bennett.
The Athletic caught up with Noteboom and Bennett after Monday’s practice:
As Noteboom walked out of the training room for his interview, his face still dripped with sweat from his first day back at practice as the team tapers him into a full workload. He also wore a large brace wrapped tightly around his left shoulder and chest. Noteboom missed both sets of joint practices with the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos earlier this month after suffering what he says is a minor upper body soft-tissue injury (hence the protective brace).
“It was something really small, kind of a maintenance thing,” he said. “They just wanted to be cautious and not make it a longer thing than it is. But I feel great, 100 percent now.”
Noteboom will be competing at right guard now that he’s back on the field. While he was injured, part of his work on the side of the field with athletic trainers included movement drills specific to the footwork he’ll need to adjust for at that position — not only because Noteboom is switching from tackle to guard, but also from left tackle (he also has played some left guard) to right guard.
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“Anyone that has played (will) say switching sides isn’t easy,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing (those reps) over and over and over again every day. At this point, it feels comfortable now. At the end of the day it is just flipped. Same footwork and technique (as left guard), just flipped. Takes the body a little time to adjust, but I feel 100 percent comfortable at it now.”
External speculation has swirled around Noteboom, in part because head coach Sean McVay did not disclose the nature of his injury but also because the Rams traded for Pittsburgh Steelers guard Kevin Dotson this week. Some have questioned whether the Rams were trying to trade him (although it is unlikely that McVay would have even publicly mentioned a new injury at all if that were the case, since teams aren’t required to report them to the NFL this time of year). A league source said Sunday that the Rams view the Dotson addition as a boost to their depth.
Noteboom said he’s more interested in proving himself to his teammates than those outside the building.
“I want to be a great player for this team, and for these coaches,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for Sean and all the coaches here. Matthew (Stafford), Cooper (Kupp) and AD (Aaron Donald). Just what they do, I want to be on that level and be the best I can be, for them and for this team — and take a step forward in that aspect.”
While Noteboom is still building into a full practice workload, Monday marked the first time the Rams’ possible starting offensive line practiced together since the start of training camp. If Noteboom does get the starting right guard job, the offensive line will feature Alaric Jackson at left tackle (Noteboom had competed with Jackson there through most of camp), rookie Steve Avila at left guard, Coleman Shelton at center, Noteboom, and Rob Havenstein at right tackle.
Bennett, whom the Rams drafted in the fourth round this spring to develop into a long-term backup, has faced a steep learning curve as his play has fluctuated.
In camp, he especially threw well when on the move or working out-of-structure if a play broke down, but he also recognized something apparent to close observers — that when he was in the pocket he may have been overthinking things, which manifested in his decisions and sometimes even the velocity on his throws.
Saturday against the Broncos, Bennett especially struggled. He threw two interceptions in the first two quarters, and was pulled in the second quarter after completing 4 of 9 pass attempts with the interceptions and no touchdowns — a 12.0 passer rating. Overall, Bennett’s 59.0 preseason passer rating was fourth-worst among quarterbacks who played relevant minutes through those three weeks.
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Bennett grimaced when talking about the game Monday. He has a long way to go, and he knows it.
The silver lining, though, was it gave him a chance to communicate something he actually needs to be a better learner — to a coaching staff that is also re-learning how to coach rookies after so many years of directing a top-heavy veteran roster.
“I’m coachable because I don’t know,” he said, in reference to some comments quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson made about how willing to learn Bennett is. “Like, if you tell me what to do, I can do it. That’s always been my … I can adapt. I can do it. But I don’t know this league. I need your help, and they have been great here. …
“I’ve had some conversations with them, because they are used to coaching pros,” he added. Bennett is still learning how to be one, starting at floor level.
“I like to be coached. Like, if something is wrong, tell me. Get on me. I’ll fix it, because I want to. Yell at me. Tell me to do better, because I’ve got to do better for the team. As we’re going, (we are) feeling people out. (But) I told them, ‘Don’t worry about any of that stuff. Don’t worry about that. I just want to be the best football player I can be, whatever it takes.’ ”
(Top photo of Joe Noteboom: Jordon Kelly / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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