Rams starters will not play in the preseason opener Saturday against the Oakland Raiders, but the Rams will not lack experience at quarterback.
Blake Bortles, who led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC championship game in 2017, is expected to start.
The sixth-year pro signed a one-year contract with the Rams, in part so that he could learn from coach Sean McVay before making a run at a starting opportunity with another NFL team next season.
With quarterback Jared Goff, star running back Todd Gurley and the rest of the first-team offense sitting out preseason games, Bortles is looking forward to showing what he has learned.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get a new resumé on tape,” Bortles said.
Bortles, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, was released by the Jaguars in March as they prepared to sign Nick Foles.
Bortles was reportedly owed $6.5 million from the Jaguars, so he signed with the Rams for $1 million, a bargain for a team that played in the Super Bowl last season and is regarded as a contender to return.
In 13 games last season, Bortles passed for 13 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Bortles has performed well during training camp, McVay said.
“He’s really been impressive when you look at a guy that’s had a lot of success as a starter in some different systems, how quickly he’s been able to come in here, digest the material, be able to own it and then be able to help get guys on the same page with some of the younger guys he’s playing with,” McVay said.
The Rams were among the NFL’s top offenses in scoring and yardage the last two seasons under McVay. While addressing reporters this week, Bortles sounded as if the coach’s scheme was everything he anticipated.
“It’s an unbelievable system,” he said. “Obviously, with the things they’ve done in the past couple years offensively, the numbers that they’ve put up previously, it’s no mystery why I should get in and get involved and see the way things are coached in the schemes and how everything’s taught and the way it’s run and the accountability and ownership the guys take in it.”
During offseason team workouts and training camp, Bortles worked almost exclusively with the second-team offense. So in scrimmage situations, he has not thrown many passes to starting receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. But in joint practices with the Chargers and Raiders, he connected with receivers Mike Thomas and JoJo Natson on several impressive plays.
Bortles will be surrounded by young players Saturday. Rookie running back Darrell Henderson, and offensive linemen David Edwards and Bobby Evans are expected to get their first NFL experience.
Safeties Taylor Rapp, cornerback David Long and tackle Greg Gaines are other rookies who are expected to get extensive playing time during preseason games. Safety Nick Scott and linebacker Dakota Allen also will try to make an impression.
After practice Thursday with the Raiders, McVay said he had not decided whether second-year linemen Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom would play Saturday. Allen is projected as the starting center and Noteboom the starting left guard for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at the Carolina Panthers.
Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day and linebacker Micah Kiser, second-year pros who are projected starters, will play a few series against the Raiders, McVay said.
The game also will be the first with the Rams for three members of the coaching staff: quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson, tight ends coach Wes Phillips and defensive line coach Eric Henderson.
“It’s really good for the new guys to kind of feel what the normal rhythm of a flow of a game is,” McVay said.
The games also might present opportunities for passing game coordinator Shane Waldron to call plays. Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden afforded McVay that opportunity when he was a member of the Redskins staff.
“Empowering your assistants is one of the best things I would take away from Jay,” McVay said, “and I think these preseason games represent a great opportunity for players and coaches to both grow and for us.”