Next week’s journey to Baltimore for two joint practices with and a preseason game against the Ravens would not typically qualify as compelling Rams or NFL drama.
But given the recent history between Rams cornerback Aqib Talib and Ravens receiver Michael Crabtree, it more than meets the standard.
In each of the last two seasons, Talib and Crabtree fought during games. Talib was playing for the Denver Broncos, Crabtree the Oakland Raiders.
In both instances, Talib ripped a gold chain from Crabtree’s neck.
Last season, both players were ejected and suspended for two games. The suspensions were reduced to one game on appeal.
Talib and Crabtree have switched teams, but the conditions for reigniting the tensions are expected to be ripe during drills, scrimmages and the game in the Maryland heat.
Does Talib harbor any residual feelings from the dust-ups with Crabtree?
“Just going out there to get some work,” Talib said Thursday. “Just going to play football.”
Coaches and players welcome joint practices for the opportunity to work against players and schemes other than their own.
But competitive instincts and tempers seemingly rise with the temperature.
Last year, the Rams held joint practices with the Chargers. During one at UC Irvine, three fights broke out, former Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson famously proclaiming, “Where I'm from, if somebody is going to initiate it, we gonna finish it. Especially myself.”
Asked about the history between Talib and Crabtree, Rams coach Sean McVay did not sound overly concerned. He said he would speak to all of his players about the “intent” and goals for the joint practices, adding there was no room for fights.
“We can’t afford to get anybody injured for unnecessary scuffles, different things like that,” McVay said.
The Ravens played the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame game Thursday night and won, 17-16.
McVay said he had spoken with Ravens coach John Harbaugh about the plan for the practices, and that he would reconnect with him Friday “just to make sure we’re on the same page” in what they were relaying to players.
“If we don’t follow the rules,” McVay said of his players, “we won’t be able to participate.”
NFL officials went over rule changes with players Wednesday night, including penalties for lowering the head to make contact, and emphasis on offensive and defensive pass interference and illegal contact.
Changes that protect players from injury are welcome, and players will adjust, Talib said.
“They’re trying to have guys healthy when they retire, so it’s good for the tackler, it’s good for the offensive guy,” he said.
But many changes by the league in recent years seem to skew in favor of offense.
“They want the offense to score 40,” Talib said, adding that “defensive guys, we get together, we still make our plays.”
Cornerback Marcus Peters is not fretting.
“With us, we got pass rush,” he said, “so we ain’t really worried about it.”