For the first time since their Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots in February, the Rams on Monday will convene on the field for full-squad drills.
The third phase of voluntary offseason workouts, which began in April, is a four-week segment that includes 10 days of organized team activities, commonly referred to as OTAs. Teams can conduct 11-on-11 drills, but live contact is prohibited.
That means coach Sean McVay can begin to implement and evaluate subtle changes to an offense that ranked as one of the NFL’s best during the last two regular seasons, but failed to score a touchdown in the 13-3 Super Bowl defeat.
It also will enable defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to assess possibilities for a unit that lost lineman Ndamukong Suh but added veteran safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews.
The eight rookies in the 2019 draft class, and more than two dozen undrafted free agents, will get opportunities to show coaches and teammates how they stack up in a full-team scenario.
Here are some key questions:
How will Weddle and Matthews fit in?
With a combined 12 Pro Bowl selections, Weddle and Matthews are expected to provide veteran skill and leadership to a defense that finished the 2018 season with a strong — but ultimately losing — performance in the Super Bowl.
After nine seasons with the Chargers and three with the Baltimore Ravens, Weddle, 34, replaces Lamarcus Joyner in a safety corps that includes John Johnson and rookie Taylor Rapp among others.
Matthews, 33, was an outstanding pass rusher during 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He also could play inside linebacker for the Rams.
Will star defensive tackle Aaron Donald know the drills?
This will be Donald’s first time participating in OTAs under McVay.
Not that he needs to.
Donald did just fine the previous two seasons after skipping OTAs because of a contract impasse. He was voted NFL defensive player of the year in 2017 and then, after receiving a $135-million extension, won again in 2018.
Having Donald in the fold should help in the evaluation of rookie Greg Gaines, a fourth-round pick whom McVay has tabbed as a potential starter at nose tackle in the base defense.
Who are the new coaches?
Former tight ends coach Shane Waldron is the pass-game coordinator and also has been given the title of quarterbacks coach. But new assistant Zac Robinson essentially replaced Zac Taylor as quarterbacks coach after Taylor was hired as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Robinson will be Jared Goff’s fourth quarterbacks coach in four NFL seasons. Robinson played quarterback at Oklahoma State and spent time as a player with four NFL teams. He has worked as an analyst for Pro Football Focus.
Robinson has “a track record, in my head at least, that he’s played and understands the position,” Goff said at the outset of offseason workouts.
Eric Henderson replaced Bill Johnson as defensive line coach. Henderson was the Chargers’ assistant defensive line coach the last two seasons.
Wes Phillips, Wade Phillips’ son, is the tight ends coach. Wes Phillips coached Washington Redskins tight ends for five seasons. He previously was a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ staff.
Is receiver Cooper Kupp back after knee surgery?
Kupp ended the 2018 season on injured reserve after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Nov. 11 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
In videos posted by the team, he appears to be progressing, but the Rams won’t hurry him.
McVay has indicated that the goal is for Kupp to be ready during training camp, so his participation in full-squad activities during OTAs is expected to be limited.
Linebacker Samson Ebukam underwent an offseason knee procedure and also could be limited during OTAs.
How much will star running back Todd Gurley do?
Despite the questions about the status of Gurley’s left knee, the star running back thrives on practice.
OTAs will enable McVay to explore how third-round pick Darrell Henderson might provide an alternate look that could lighten Gurley’s and Malcolm Brown’s workload during the season.
After the departures of Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan, can the offensive line regroup?
Saffold, who signed with the Tennessee Titans, and Sullivan, who remains unsigned, had a combined 20 years of NFL experience.
Second-year pro Joseph Noteboom replaces Saffold at left guard. Second-year pro Brian Allen will get the first opportunity to replace Sullivan at center.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, right guard Austin Blythe and right tackle Rob Havenstein are returning starters.
Rookies Bobby Evans and David Edwards are expected to get work at both tackle spots and also, possibly, at guard.