Rams preseason takeaways: Stetson Bennett recovers nicely after ‘bone-headed plays’

Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett scrambles away from Chargers defensive end Scott Matlock.
Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett scrambles away from Chargers defensive end Scott Matlock in the second quarter of the Rams’ 34-17 preseason loss to the Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Saturday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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The Rams played the Chargers in a preseason opener on Saturday night at SoFi Stadium. Observations from the Rams’ 34-17 defeat:


Quarterback Stetson Bennett settles in

For a first time in an NFL game situation, Stetson Bennett showed poise and all but announced he would not be easily rattled.

That was evident after two of his first three passes nearly were intercepted.

Bennett shook off the potential disasters and came back to complete 17 of 29 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He also led another touchdown drive and a field-goal drive.


“I thought it was all right,” Bennett said of his performance. “I thought there was some bone-headed plays that I made. And I thought there were some good plays that I made.”

Coming off a 5-12 season instead of a Super Bowl title, Rams coach Sean McVay has to change his mindset with a roster of untested players and many stars gone.

Aug. 8, 2023

The Rams drafted Bennett in the fourth round, believing the former Georgia star could back up, and possibly succeed, veteran starter Matthew Stafford.

Fifth-year pro Brett Rypien started the game, but that was just a prelude for Bennett’s debut with 9 minutes 50 seconds left in the second quarter.

It did not start well for Bennett, who last January at SoFi Stadium led Georgia to its second straight national title.

Bennett’s first pass Saturday nearly was intercepted, barely avoiding a pick six. He overthrew a receiver on his second attempt, and his third nearly was intercepted.


“Didn’t turn the ball over,” Bennett said, before quipping, “even though I tried to a few times.”

Bennett overcame his early mistakes and led a 16-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Puka Nacua.

Bennett completed three of seven passes for 37 yards during the drive.

The Dallas Cowboys are valued at more than $9 billion, higher than any NFL team. The Rams, whose on-field fortunes plummeted last season, are No. 3 in value.

Aug. 9, 2023

Bennett also led drives that ended with running back Royce Freeman’s touchdown run and Tanner Brown’s 39-yard field goal.

“It was a step in the right direction,” coach Sean McVay said, adding, “I thought there was a lot of good opportunities for him to learn from and you could see some of the things that excite us about him.”

Offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum praised Bennett’s command of the huddle.


“He had a couple of backwards calls here and there, for sure, but for the most part he had a lot of command,” Anchrum said. “He spoke with confidence. He really addressed us professionally. And he took … the helm.”

Rypien completed three of six passes for 11 yards.


Several potential starters played

Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek makes a catch during the first half against the Chargers on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After not playing starters and other potential significant players during preseason games the last five years, McVay said this year there would be a different approach.

And he kept to his word.

Anchrum, left tackle Alaric Jackson, rookie left guard Steve Avila, receiver Ben Skowronek and safety Russ Yeast were among the players that played several series.

Offensive lineman Joe Noteboom, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in 2022, did not play. McVay indicated he would participate in joint practices with the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos.


Rookie receiver Puka Nacua continued to stand out

Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua celebrates after making a touchdown catch against the Chargers on Saturday.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

Nacua, a fifth-round draft pick from Brigham Young, continued to show why McVay and receivers coach Eric Yarber have been complimenting him since offseason workouts.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nacua caught three passes for 32 yards, including the touchdown pass from Bennett.

Nacua appears to be on track to play a significant role with star Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell.

“You can see he’s a physical, tough, no fear ... guy that has aggressive hands,” McVay said. “He’s doing a great job.”


Receiver Tyler Johnson, one of five free agents the Rams signed to veteran-minimum contracts, caught a team-high five passes for 70 yards. Freeman, who also signed a veteran-minimum deal, rushed for 26 yards in seven carries and scored on a three-yard run.

The Rams’ secondary is young and inexperienced, so adding a veteran safety in John Johnson (a former Ram) gives stability and leadership to back end of defense.

Aug. 9, 2023


Rams need help on the defensive line

Rams defensive lineman Kobie Turner performs a drill during practice in May.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

With star defensive lineman Aaron Donald on the sideline, young players got plenty of opportunities.

And the Chargers averaged a whopping 6.9 yards per rushing play.

“I felt like we could use our hands overall better,” McVay said. “Didn’t feel like we played the way that we were capable of.”

Bobby Brown, Earnest Jones IV and rookie Kobie Turner will have more chances to develop against the Raiders and Broncos.


Special teams has work to do

Derius Davis (12) scores on a punt return for the Chargers in the second quarter Saturday.
Derius Davis (12) scores on an 81-yard punt return for the Chargers in the second quarter Saturday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

First-year special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn has some teachable moments to address.

Derius Davis of the Chargers ran through the Rams’ punt return unit for an 81-yard touchdown.

Kicker Tanner Brown missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt but made a 39-yard field goal.

Punter Ethan Evans averaged 51.3 yards per kick.

Wide receiver Quentin Johnston, the Chargers’ first-round draft pick, scored a touchdown but was not happy he dropped two passes against the Rams.

Aug. 12, 2023