Stetson Bennett started slow but finished strong in his Rams preseason debut.
A week later, can the rookie quarterback play consistently well?
That is the most intriguing question for the Rams going into their game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday at SoFi Stadium.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and other Rams starters will not play. All got heavy work this week during joint practices with the Raiders. Star receiver Cooper Kupp continues to rehabilitate a hamstring injury.
For Bennett — Stafford’s presumptive back up — and nearly three dozen other rookies, coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will be looking to measure growth from a 34-17 defeat by the Chargers last week.
That was the first NFL experience for those young players. After the joint practices with the Raiders, Morris anticipates vast improvement.
“Their first to the second game is always such a big response,” Morris said.
Here are five things to watch when the Rams play the Raiders:
Pass or fail
Against the Chargers, Bennett came on in the second quarter in relief of starter Brett Rypien.
So perhaps McVay will start Bennett against the Raiders.
Bennett narrowly avoided disaster in his first few plays against the Chargers before rebounding and making plays, including a touchdown pass to rookie receiver Puka Nacua.
“He made some really good plays and then he also had some plays that he kind of got away with,” McVay said, “and so we want to just see the consistent decision-making a little bit higher, and especially in some of those scoring situations and I think you’ll see that reflected.”
Stop the run
The Rams, seemingly, can only improve after giving up 6.8 yards per rushing play against the Chargers.
Donald attempted to counsel young players from the sideline, and during practices with the Raiders.
“You’ve seen some good stuff,” Donald said of the younger players, “obviously some bad stuff…. Just want to keep seeing guys getting better, being more productive in the game. Seeing what I see when it comes to practice, how they play and making plays and being productive…. But again, it’s a process.”
Nose tackle Bobby Brown III, rookie Kobie Turner and Earnest Brown IV are among the linemen aiming to improve their performances.
Setting the edge
The interior line is not the only area in need of playmakers.
Second-year linebacker Keir Thomas had 1 ½ sacks and Daniel Hardy had a half-sack against the Chargers. But they and rookies Byron Young and Nick Hampton must apply more consistent pressure and also help contain the run.
Young appeared to make strides during practices against the Raiders.
Got it covered
Rookie cornerback Tre Tomlinson played a team-high 35 defensive snaps against the Chargers and built on that experience in joint-practice matchups against star Raiders receiver Davante Adams.
With Derion Kendrick sidelined because of a hamstring issue, third-year pro Robert Rochell continues to get extensive opportunities to show he can consistently play as an outside cornerback.
Special team coordinator Chase Blackburn did not have to wait long for a teachable moment.
Against the Chargers, the Rams gave up an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“We own it, we own it forever,” Blackburn said. “Those guys that are involved in that play will always remember to break down, now I can pretty much assure you that….. There’s a lot of good that can come out of a game like that, even in a bad situation.”