Rams starters focused on crucial joint practices with Bengals

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has not faced an opposing team’s defense since February, when he led the Rams to a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

On Wednesday, Stafford will see the Bengals again when the Rams hold the first of two joint practice sessions with the defending AFC champions.

Coach Sean McVay doesn’t play starters during preseason games, so the workouts present Stafford and other frontline players with a lonely opportunity to play against someone else as teammates ahead of the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s a hell of a test for us to be up against our defense every day, but I think it’s good for both sides [the] Ball,” Stafford said last week. “Just look at something else. Feels like a game. … As long as everyone keeps their heads level and doesn’t get too crazy or we have to go to training earlier or whatever, I think it’s positive.

Shared drills are structured to allow players to operate under game-like conditions, but in a semi-controlled environment that is said to reduce the risk of injury.

The main goal for McVay and Bengals coach Zac Taylor – a former Rams assistant under McVay – is for both teams to emerge unscathed.

“We don’t want cheap stuff,” McVay said. “We have no place to fight. … We can’t afford to miss it for stupid stuff.

This is the second time during McVay’s tenure that the Rams have traveled out of state for joint drills. In 2018, they trained with the Baltimore Ravens before a preseason game.

McVay said the Rams will play more than 90 games during the two days of practice leading up to Saturday’s preseason finals between the teams at Paycor Stadium.

The squads must be reduced to 53 players by next Tuesday.

The Rams don’t have a game plan for the drills, which can serve more as a testing lab for the offense, defense and specialty teams, McVay said.

“Sometimes the best learning operations, whether it’s for a coach or a player, can happen where there’s really no impact, other than get out there, don’t be afraid to fail,” McVay said.

In the Super Bowl, star defenseman Aaron Donald clinched the Rams’ 23-20 win over the Bengals by urging quarterback Joe Burrow into a desperate throw that went incomplete.

Donald looks forward to facing players other than the Rams’ offensive linemen.

“It’s just against someone else,” he said. “Get to work and compete against someone other than…your own team.”

The training sessions also offer young players the opportunity to work with starters.

Receiver Lance McCutcheon, for example, played well in preseason games against the Chargers and Houston Texans, catching passes from reserve quarterbacks John Wolford and Bryce Perkins.

But the drills could give McCutcheon, an undrafted free agent pushing for a roster spot, a chance to work in situations involving Stafford, Cooper Kupp and other starters.

How many of the Rams’ offensive and defensive starters will participate in the drills remains to be seen.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and inside linebacker Ernest Jones did not practice Monday due to illness. Running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson have been sidelined for a week with what McVay described as “soft tissue injuries.”

Rookie Kyren Williams is expected to take on first-team representatives.

With Coleman Shelton potentially sidelined with a lower body injury and rookie Logan Bruss out for the season with a knee injury against the Texans, third-year pro Tremayne Anchrum could snap at first-team right.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-08-23/rams-joint-practices-bengals-cincinnati Rams starters focused on crucial joint practices with Bengals

Emma Bowman

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