These are the Rams to watch closely in preseason opener against Chargers

·4 min read
IRVNE, CA - JULY 24, 2022: Rams coach Sean McVay calls out plays.
The Rams' Sean McVay will be coaching his first game since Super Bowl LVI, although it's a preseason game. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Star players came through for the Rams the last time they played at SoFi Stadium.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey played key roles in a Super Bowl LVI victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on their home turf.

None of those stars, or any other starter or key veteran player, will play for the Rams during the preseason, which begins Saturday night against the Chargers at SoFi — the Rams’ first time back since rolling in the confetti after defeating the Bengals exactly six months before.

For the last four seasons, Rams coach Sean McVay has been at the forefront of sidelining starters during preseason games.

Five areas to watch against the Chargers:

Can Tutu Atwell take the next step?

Rams wide receiver Tutu Atwell runs a play during practice.
Rams wide receiver Tutu Atwell's comeback from injury begins in their preseason opener Saturday against the Chargers. (Associated Press)

Receiver Van Jefferson’s status for the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills is in doubt as he recovers from knee surgery, so Atwell’s development is of paramount importance for that game and beyond.

Atwell, a second-round draft pick last year, is coming off a disappointing rookie season that ended with shoulder surgery.

After working closely with Kupp during the offseason, Atwell showed during training camp the speed and ball-tracking ability that McVay and general manager Les Snead trumpeted after they surprisingly selected the diminutive Atwell high in the draft.

During practices at UC Irvine, Atwell made one or two plays on deep routes every workout. He also appeared to gain confidence as a kick returner.

“They brought me here for a reason, and that’s to take the top off and do whatever it takes on special teams,” Atwell said. “When my number is called, I have to show them they can rely on me.”

McVay said Atwell has matured since last year. Now he must show he can perform in games.

“It's one thing to do it in practice, it's another thing to do it in situations that really count,” McVay said. “So, want to see this stuff continue to translate.”

QB Bryce Perkins fights for roster spot

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins scrambles during a drill at training camp.
With his preseason play, quarterback Bryce Perkins is hoping to convince the Rams to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Last season, Perkins was destined for the practice squad as the No. 3 quarterback behind Stafford and backup John Wolford.

But Perkins played so well during the preseason, the Rams could not afford to cut him when rosters were trimmed to 53 and add him to the practice squad because another team almost certainly would have signed him.

When the season starts, Stafford is expected to play through elbow tendinitis that has plagued him but McVay still wants depth behind Wolford.

Perkins knows the Rams’ system and has said he has better command at the line of scrimmage than a year ago.

Are these rookie cornerbacks ready?

Rams cornerback Decobie Durant gestures to a coach during camp.
Rams cornerback Decobie Durant makes his NFL debut Saturday against the Chargers. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Decobie Durant, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina State, and Derion Kendrick, a sixth-round pick from Georgia, never backed down during camp, challenging Kupp and new receiver Allen Robinson daily. Both young players intercepted passes and got work with the first-team defense.

McVay said second-year pro Robert Rochell also would play during the preseason. Rochell started five games last season before suffering a chest injury.

Rookie safety Russ Yeast is another young defensive back aiming to find a role beyond special teams.

Can rookie Logan Bruss start at guard?

Rams guard Logan Bruss (60) participates in drills during camp.
Rams guard Logan Bruss (60) participates in drills during camp. He will try to prove during the preseason that he can be a starter. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Rams drafted Bruss in the third round — with their first pick — with the intent of having the Wisconsin standout replace Austin Corbett at right guard.

During camp, however, Coleman Shelton took most first-team reps.

So, the Rams might be planning to go with the versatile Shelton to start the season, give Bruss playing time and then eventually move the rookie into the starting role. That way, Shelton remains available as a backup at center and both guard spots.

Tackle A.J. Arcuri, a seventh-round pick from Michigan State, also will play.

Bruss and Arcuri are not expected to be blocking for rookie running back Kyren Williams on Saturday. Williams had foot surgery during the spring and came off the physically unable to perform list near the end of training camp. The Rams probably will not play him against the Chargers.

Who will stand out on special teams?

On a team loaded with proven players, the road to a roster spot is on special teams. Kendrick, Durant, Yeast and rookie outside linebacker Daniel Hardy are players to watch.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.