Rams will test outside linebackers, pass rushers and backups on offensive line against Texans on Saturday
Preseason NFL games are not high-stakes affairs, unless you are a rookie offensive lineman charged with protecting the franchise’s most valuable asset.
That’s the assignment the Rams’ Joseph Noteboom initially drew for Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans at the Coliseum.
Veteran Andrew Whitworth is sitting out preseason games, so Noteboom will start at left tackle in what was supposed to be quarterback Jared Goff’s first and only preseason action.
“You definitely don’t want him getting pressure or touched,” Noteboom said.
Noteboom’s job will remain the same, but he probably will once again be protecting the blind side for backup quarterback Sean Mannion.
Coach Sean McVay indicated Thursday that Goff is on track to sit out the entire preseason, which ends next week at New Orleans. Whitworth and veteran center John Sullivan are not playing against the Texans and, of more immediate concern, right tackle Rob Havenstein is nursing an ankle injury.
The risk Goff would face taking snaps behind rookies and backups — with Texans lineman J.J. Watt and edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney on the other side of the line of scrimmage — is too great.
On a day when McVay said that running back Todd Gurley definitely would not play, he did not make the same definitive proclamation regarding Goff. Havenstein’s availability Saturday, McVay said, “will definitely have an impact on what we do.”
But with the Rams investing heavily in players for a possible run to the Super Bowl, McVay is expected to play it safe to ensure that Goff and all starters are physically sound for the Sept. 10 opener against the Oakland Raiders on “Monday Night Football.”
All but two starters — offensive guard Jamon Brown and linebacker Samson Ebukam — were held out of the 33-7 loss to the Ravens and a 19-15 victory over the Raiders.
Many are looking forward to acclimating to game conditions, if only for a few series.
Linebacker Cory Littleton will call defensive signals for the first time.
Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh noted this week that joint practices with the Ravens were valuable, but did not include hitting the quarterback.
“But in these games we can,” he said. “It’s always good to get a couple bumps, hits and get to the real thing in Week 1.”
Preseason action enables players to gauge their conditioning and more, cornerback Aqib Talib said.
“Get some full-speed reps, that first initial tackling somebody all the way to the ground, get that out your system before the first game of the season,” he said.
Cornerback Marcus Peters’ goals?
“Get a three-and-out every time,” he said, “and then we done.”
Ebukam, a second-year pro, started the first two games to continue gaining experience. He appears on his way to starting as an edge-rusher.
But the other outside spot is not settled.
Matt Longacre is coming off back surgery and was slowed through training camp and the first two weeks of the preseason because of a biceps injury. Second-year pro Ejuan Price started against the Raiders.
The Rams considered signing veteran free agent Junior Galette, bringing him in for a physical, but dismissed the possibility without putting him through a workout.
Dominique Easley played defensive tackle in college and during his first three NFL seasons. He sat out last season after suffering his third major knee injury, but began practicing this week at outside linebacker.
Rookie Justin Lawler has played well behind Ebukam. Rookie linebacker Trevon Young and, possibly, lineman John Franklin-Myers also could get opportunities to rush the passer from an outside spot against the Texans.
Stopping pass rushers will be on Noteboom’s mind as he plays alongside veteran left guard Rodger Saffold.
“I just want to try to reassure him,” Saffold said. “To help where need be and tell him just to play his game.”
Against the Raiders, Noteboom started at left tackle but also played right tackle and right guard.
He is among the players the Rams are considering as a temporary replacement for Brown, who is suspended for the first two games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Playing tackle requires heightened athleticism, playing guard more power, Noteboom said. Switching positions is not a problem.
“It’s just flipping your mind-set,” he said.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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