The anticipation and excitement came through in cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman’s voice. It was evident in receiver Robert Woods’ grin, and in the gestures linebacker Cory Littleton and safety John Johnson utilized for emphasis.
After being held out of preseason games to avoid injuries that could affect their availability for the Sept. 8 season opener at Carolina, Rams starters are eager to begin preparations for games that count.
That commences Saturday, when the Rams practice with a roster trimmed from 90 players to the NFL-maximum 53.
“It’s time to get down to business,” Robey-Coleman said outside the NRG Stadium locker room after the Rams’ final preseason game in Houston on Thursday night.
Coach Sean McVay and his staff began making cuts Friday, a task that must be completed by Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. PDT. The Rams announced they waived 18 players, including quarterback Brandon Allen. They can sign 10 players to the practice squad.
The Rams were off Friday but they practice Saturday afternoon with their full attention on the Panthers for the first time.
“Really, just excited to get out there and actually play a game,” Woods said Thursday night.
During training camp and the run-up to the preseason, Rams starters participated in joint practices with the Chargers and Oakland Raiders. They otherwise were limited to practicing with and scrimmaging against each other.
Littleton said the Rams had done some preliminary work on the Panthers.
“You can only do so much with the preseason,” he said. “It’s a real game week coming up.”
McVay’s strategy of holding out starters before the opener is sound, Johnson said.
“I look at it as extra time for us to start peaking,” he said. “You don’t want to peak at the wrong time. You want to slowly, gradually build up.”
With the starters on the sideline, rookie cornerback David Long benefited from the opportunity to play preseason snaps. The third-round pick said he picked up tips from veterans during games, got accustomed to NFL speed and improved on special teams.
“I did real well the last few weeks as far as progressing and not making the same mistakes,” he said. “I want to carry that into next week.”
Quarterback John Wolford left Houston with a more tenuous future. He passed for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos and two touchdowns against the Texans, but on a team that includes Jared Goff and Blake Bortles, he was competing with Allen for a spot on the roster or practice squad.
“Know I did everything I could to make the team — I don’t have any regrets,” Wolford said. “If you look at the preseason as a whole, including practices, I thought I did a good job. Now I’m hoping I can stay here, but there’s 31 other teams. We’ll see what happens.”
Long-snapper Jake McQuaide, an eight-year veteran, said the first practice after cuts annually serves as a valuable reminder for players.
“You’re used to 90, and then you get there and there’s only 53,” McQuaide said. “You feel good for a lot of guys realizing their dreams — and on the opposite side you feel really bad because … a lot of people’s dreams end.
“When you’re part of the 53, be grateful for it, because it’s tough to make a team.”
Cornerback Dominique Hatfield suffered an ankle injury against the Texans. X-rays were negative, but Hatfield was scheduled to have more tests Saturday, a team spokesperson said. … Players waived: quarterback Allen; running back Matt Colburn; receivers Austin Proehl, Jalen Greene and Johnathan Lloyd; tight ends Kendall Blanton, Romello Brooker and Keenen Brown; offensive linemen Abdul Beecham, Brandon Hitner, Vitas Hrynkiewicz and Matt Kaskey; defensive linemen Bryant Jones and Boogie Roberts; linebacker Ketner Kupp; defensive backs Jake Gervase and Ramon Richards; and punter Brock Miller.