Defensive lineman Michael Brockers wants to play. So does safety John Johnson.
They are among Rams starters who watched from the sideline during the first two preseason games, including Saturday’s 19-15 victory over the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum.
NFL starters are rarely put in harm’s way in final preseason games. So with the Houston Texans coming to the Coliseum next week, that could be the last opportunity for them to experience game speed before the Sept. 10 opener against the Raiders in Oakland on “Monday Night Football.”
The players, of course, will abide by whatever coach Sean McVay decides.
But after winning the NFC West last season, and seeing the roster restocked with proven stars at several positions, they are eager to prepare themselves for a season that comes with Super Bowl expectations.
“I expect to play next week, just because you’ve got to get some of your timing down,” Brockers, a seventh-year pro, said in the locker room after Saturday’s victory. “Going against another team, getting up to speed, stuff like that.
“I definitely think the starters should play.”
Johnson, a second-year pro, said two joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens before the Rams’ first preseason game were productive, but fell short of truly mimicking game situations.
“Just to feel the speed, the atmosphere, the crowd and the whole thing,” Johnson said.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, preparing for his 11th NFL season, would be fine playing against the Texans or sitting out.
“I ain’t going to forget how to tackle or nothing like that,” he said. “I’ll be straight. But whatever coach wants.”
Receivers Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods were among the sidelined starters who quickly exited the locker room before McVay addressed reporters after Saturday’s game, the Raiders’ first in the Coliseum since 1994. Brockers, Johnson and Talib were among the few starters still around.
In a different year, all of them might have played Saturday.
But with the season opener against the Raiders only a few weeks away, McVay was not about to show mentor Jon Gruden anything useful.
Gruden, who gave McVay his first NFL coaching job, adopted the same philosophy.
“So that was a strange second preseason game,” Gruden said.
Asked whether most starters would play against the Texans, McVay said he and his coaches had not made a decision.
“You’ll expect to see some guys,” he said, “but again, we haven’t made that full decision yet.”
Is there a chance quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley could not play the entire preseason?
“There’s a possibility,” McVay said. “But I think those guys both would tell you that they want to play. I think being able to listen to those guys, understand kind of where they’re coming from to get into a little bit of a rhythm, get out there, put some pads on where they can actually get tackled is something that we want to think about.”
McVay, of course, must weigh whether the risk of injury in a meaningless game is too great. And there is a domino effect: If Goff plays, that means left tackle Andrew Whitworth, entering his 13th season, would have to be in the lineup to protect the franchise’s most important asset.
“Our players’ opinions do have a big part of it in terms of kind of what they’re feeling and how we can put them in good spots, ultimately, to feel as good as possible for [the opener] Sept. 10.”
Linebacker Samson Ebukam was the only projected starter on defense to play in the first two games.
Ebukam said he was benefiting from that decision by coaches. The Rams traded Robert Quinn and let Connor Barwin leave as a free agent, so the second-year player said he still must show he is capable.
“We’re all just trying to earn our spots,” Ebukam said, “and I’m trying to prove something to the coaches.”
Ebukam will probably get another opportunity to do so against the Texans.