As a rookie NFL head coach in 2017, it was important for Sean McVay to evaluate all of his new players in preseason games.
So quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, defensive lineman Michael Brockers and many other starters played in the preseason opener.
McVay, the reigning NFL coach of the year, appears to have evolved in his thinking.
After two productive days of joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens, McVay indicated that Goff and others might sit out Thursday night’s game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
McVay said he was having “a tough time” figuring how to balance the value of snaps versus the potential for injury to key players.
“You can’t be scared,” he said, “But you also want to be smart and mindful of those couple snaps.”
Goff, who has looked sharp throughout training camp, said he would be ready if called upon. He acknowledged that the offense’s continuity after a season in McVay’s system could factor into a decision to hold him out.
“There’s definitely part of that, where we’re a little bit more comfortable and not so much unknown,” he said. “But, whatever he wants to do, we’re on board with it.”
In 2016, under former coach Jeff Fisher, Gurley played in only one preseason game and carried the ball four times. Last year, he played in the first two preseason games and carried 12 times.
Gurley said Tuesday that he “definitely” would not want to play in the preseason. But then he reconsidered after thinking about pregame wind sprints for nonparticipants.
“I’d probably rather do the preseason, honestly, because they try to make you do like 12 100s instead, which is crazy,” he said. “So, sometimes it’s better to just play in the game.”
While the starters might be held out or limited, Thursday night’s game — and all of the preseason — is another opportunity for backup quarterback Sean Mannion.
“He’s really taken a lot of steps in the right direction,” McVay said.
Mannion completed 49 of 76 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns during the 2017 preseason.
Mannion is in the final year of his rookie contract.
“I’m not letting that change my approach or demeanor in any way,” he said, “because the way I look at it, you’ve got to play well regardless.”
Quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Luis Perez also are expected to get snaps.
The Rams defense probably will play the majority of the game against Ravens backup quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson.
Griffin completed seven of 11 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, in last week’s Hall of Fame game against the Chicago Bears. Jackson completed four of 10 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. He also rushed eight times for 25 yards.
Thursday night’s game will be an opportunity for Rams coaches to evaluate rookies in game situations for the first time. Running back John Kelly, offensive linemen Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen and Jamil Demby, defensive linemen John Franklin-Myers and Sebastian Joseph and linebackers Micah Kiser, Trevon Young and Travin Howard are 2018 draft picks expected to play.
Rookie linebacker Obo Okoronkwo and end Justin Lawler have been held out or slowed by injuries during training camp.
The preseason also will be important for players such as second-year running back Justin Davis.