Matthew Stafford passes test, plays well in Rams’ scrimmage against Cowboys
Matthew Stafford’s first two deep balls to DeSean Jackson during Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage against the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard just missed, keeping the Rams’ high-profile veteran acquisitions searching for a connection before day’s end.
Other than that, Stafford had checked all the boxes in his first action against an opponent as a Ram. He promptly completed his first four throws in seven-on-seven drills, including a slant to Van Jefferson that went for a touchdown. He peppered Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee on short and intermediate routes, showing no ill effects of the thumb injury on his right hand sustained earlier in training camp. On a third down deep in the red zone, with Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee imploring his defense to get off the field, Stafford found Robert Woods for a touchdown over the middle.
But there was still something missing — until late in the hourlong session when Jackson sped past Donovan Wilson and Trevon Diggs and Stafford dropped the ball into his hands in stride for a long touchdown.
“It was good to see, an unbelievable throw across his body,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Those are things that you have seen consistently [in practice]. We want to continue to build off that. But it’s a good balance. We want to be efficient and explosive, and I thought that was an example of creating explosives, and it was a big-time throw across the grain there.”
Sure, Saturday was only a scrimmage, staged more than a month before the season opener. But, because McVay will not play Stafford in the Rams’ three exhibition games to protect him from injury, this scrimmage took on more importance than it normally would.
Stafford played significantly more snaps against the Cowboys defense than quarterbacks Devlin Hodges and Bryce Perkins, who are battling for the third-string position (backup John Wolford was out after having his appendix removed Friday).
And, naturally, it wasn’t all positive as Stafford gets acclimated to life as a Ram after 12 seasons as the Detroit Lions’ franchise quarterback. His first pass of the day in 11 on 11 was a bootleg that Stafford threw right into the hands of Cowboys cornerback Maurice Canady. The rest of his day would erase that memory, though.
Former Rams star wide receiver Isaac Bruce was among the players who entered the Hall of Fame on Saturday, a year late because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When it’s not against our own defense, having him see the new looks and the ball still getting out when it’s supposed to and going to the right people, he’s doing a great job,” Kupp said.
“He’s got a great demeanor. For a guy that’s coming in and having to learn all the terminology in what I think is a pretty intricate offense to be clear and articulate and command the huddle is a pretty impressive thing.”
Kupp was happy to see Stafford and Jackson’s big play too — an indication that the Rams’ passing game may have an extra gear in 2021.
“It’s just going to continue to grow,” Kupp said. “You can see the feel they have for each other and just the ability for DeSean to track the ball like he can and Matthew getting the ball up there and letting guys run underneath it. We love having DeSean out there, what he does to the top shelf of the defense.”
Isaac Bruce played junior college football in Los Angeles and started his NFL career in the Southland on way to Hall-of-Fame career with Rams.
Aaron Donald gets in a scuffle
Saturday’s practice was divided into two scrimmages, with the Cowboys offense going against the Rams defense on one field and the Rams offense taking on the Cowboys defense on the other.
Those whose focus was fixed on Stafford (Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott did not play as he continues his recovery from a broken ankle) missed out on a scuffle between Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Cowboys guard Connor Williams, which led to both units mixing it up for about 30 seconds.
Williams and Donald appeared to get tangled up, and Williams pulled Donald to the turf, which Donald did not appreciate.
Tutu Atwell takes a tumble
Rams rookie wide receiver Tutu Atwell caught a pass along the sideline from Perkins and was unable to control his momentum as he ran headfirst into a camera platform that fortunately was padded. Atwell had to be tended to by Rams medical staff but soon returned to practice.
“His pop-up game was nice there,” McVay said. “It didn’t sound good, but he said he was OK to me.”
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