Highlight-reel plays don’t come easy or often, especially for NFL rookies in their first games.
But Rams running back John Kelly produced a few last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee showed his moves and his speed when he broke off a 40-yard run.
Kelly, though, was more proud of the tackle he made covering a first-quarter punt.
“The 40-yard run, it would have been even sweeter if I scored,” he said. “But the tackle? It was open field!”
In a position group that includes star Todd Gurley, proven backup Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Justin Davis, Kelly knows he must demonstrate versatility to make the 53-man roster for the Sept. 10 opener against the Oakland Raiders.
It’s the same for other members of the Rams’ 2018 draft class and undrafted free agents on the current 90-man roster.
So Kelly and other first-year players are eager to make a positive impression in Saturday’s preseason game against the Raiders at the Coliseum. It is the Raiders’ first game at the Coliseum since the 1994 season, their last in Los Angeles before relocating back to Oakland in 1995.
For the second game in a row, coach Sean McVay will keep nearly all starters sidelined to avoid injury. The decision to do so was made easier because the Rams play the Raiders again in a few weeks.
Offensive lineman Joseph Noteboom, a third-round pick from Texas Christian, was the first player chosen by the Rams in the 2018 draft. He is regarded as a possible heir to the left tackle spot anchored by 36-year-old Andrew Whitworth.
The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Noteboom played a series at right guard against the Ravens — starter Jamon Brown is suspended for the first two games of the regular season — but the rest of his playing time was at left tackle.
“I thought I did pretty well, and I think to myself, ‘You know, I got this out of the way,’ ” Noteboom said of playing in his first game. “Now, instead of the big picture, it’s focusing on all the little tiny details.”
Linebacker Micah Kiser, a fifth-round pick from Virginia, made a team-best six tackles against the Ravens. The Baltimore native was initially nervous — “the first couple snaps you’re going to have jitters,” he said — but he quickly settled down.
“Once you get it out and start playing,” he said, “it’s just ball.”
As with Kelly, Kiser is playing on all four special-teams units. Kiser said playing on special teams was required for defensive starters at Virginia.
“In the NFL, it’s different kinds of schemes, different kinds of blocking, different kind of everything,” he said. “I’m just learning techniques and taking it to the game.”
With starters Michael Brockers and Ndamukong Suh sitting out again, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day aims to build off his two-tackle performance against the Ravens. One of his stops resulted in lost yardage.
“I wouldn’t say this position is a one-trick pony, it’s about the overall product so that’s what I am really focused on right now,” said Joseph-Day, a sixth-round pick from Rutgers. “I kind of know what to expect now.
“You experienced it, so you’re not new to the game. So you’re definitely more confident in the scheme and in everything you’ve been doing.”
For defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers, Saturday’s game will be his first.
The fourth-round pick from Stephen F. Austin impressed coaches during joint practices with the Ravens but was held out of the preseason opener as a precautionary measure because of shoulder soreness.
Franklin-Myers said he won’t experience jitters. He got over them, he said, the moment he saw his game jersey in his locker.
“On the field, these guys are no different than me,” he said. “I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
So is Kelly, who said he treats every practice rep and game snap “like it’s my last.”
Kelly intends to build on his 13-carry, 77-yard rushing performance against the Ravens. With Davis doubtful because of a hamstring injury, Kelly could be a workhorse against the Raiders.
But he also is looking forward to another game on special teams.