On a veteran Rams team with perhaps only a half-dozen roster spots up for grabs, competition for a cornerback job is heating up.
Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are established starters with multiple Pro Bowl selections between them. Nickell Robey-Coleman is the starting slot corner, and Troy Hill has proven a valuable rotational player and spot starter. And the Rams invested a third-round pick in David Long.
That leaves one open spot, and Kevin Peterson, Darious Williams and Dominique Hatfield are the main contenders to make a team that has designs on a return to the Super Bowl.
“It’s a positive problem for us with the depth that we do have,” coach Sean McVay said, adding, “These younger players are continuing to ascend and they’re going to force some difficult decisions here in a couple weeks, which is a good thing.”
Peterson, 25, intercepted a pass in the Rams’ 14-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Saturday’s preseason opener. He made the play almost exactly one year from the day he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2018 preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
“It felt great to be out there with my guys again,” Peterson said. “Seeing the guys get to the Super Bowl last year, seeing how hard they worked, seeing what it takes to be able to get to that — and I’m just doing my rehab the whole time … I’m just excited to be out there with my guys.”
Peterson played at Oklahoma State and was signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2016. The Rams signed him to their practice squad and he eventually was promoted to the roster late in the 2017 season.
With McVay resting starters in the 2017 regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, Peterson earned a start. He made the most of the opportunity, intercepting two passes by 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Peterson was looking forward to competing for a larger role last year, but the knee injury ended his season. He set his sights on being ready for training camp.
“Just aim for training camp and come out full blown,” he said. “Go out there and ball, don’t even worry about it, get the confidence and everything.
“Come into training camp knowing I’m not worried about the knee anymore, I’m just coming out here playing.”
Talib and Peters have set the tone for the cornerbacks, Peterson said.
“They’re leaders; they know the game like crazy,” he said. “They’re some of the best competitors that I’ve ever been around. They don’t make excuses about anything. They just go out and ball.”
Williams, 26, played in college at Alabama Birmingham and signed with the Ravens after the 2018 draft. The Rams claimed him off waivers last October, and he played in one game.
McVay said Williams made an impression last season during practices when he worked against the starting offense as a member of the scout team. Now that he has become acclimated to coaches and has “continuity in the system,” Williams is thriving. He intercepted a pass in a joint practice with the Chargers and played well against the Raiders.
“His play and his confidence have really shown up,” McVay said.
Hatfield, 24, played at Crenshaw High and Utah before signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He has played in 21 games, mainly on special teams.
Dont’e Deayon and Ramon Richards are other cornerbacks who will play during the preseason.
Young offensive lineman playing multiple positions
Rams starters will not play in preseason games, a boon for rookie offensive linemen David Edwards and Bobby Evans.
Each played both tackle spots and also guard against the Raiders, a scenario that probably will repeat Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Practicing against teammates Aaron Donald, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year, and veteran Michael Brockers prepared them well, the rookies said.
“Going against guys like that,” Evans said, “you ain’t got no choice but to get better.”
Said Edwards: “They’re the best of the best, right? ... Those guys are just different dudes. They definitely do a really good job of preparing us because you’re able to try different stuff, see what works, and then, hey, if this works, let’s roll with it.”
The Rams were off Monday. They will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then depart for Hawaii on Thursday afternoon.