Every player in an NFL training camp has his own storyline.
There are the superstars getting back in shape at an elite level, veterans trying to hang on for one more season, draft picks trying to verify the team’s faith in them and undrafted free agents trying to do anything to catch a coach’s eye.
The Rams don’t have a quarterback controversy (for sure) entering training camp July 23. They are defending Super Bowl champs. The biggest goal of training camp for them is staying healthy. Superstars Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp probably won’t play a snap in pre-season.
But they do have some players with intriguing storylines entering camp. These are the best.
Allen Robinson II
Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, Justin Fields and Andy Dalton.
Those have been the six quarterbacks who have thrown passes to Robinson II in his eight-year career split with Jacksonville and Chicago.
Robinson has pieced together three 1,000 yard-seasons, but last year a hamstring injury messed him up and he caught a career-low 38 passes for 410 yards with the Bears.
The Rams need a second or third wide receiver (depending on where you put Van Jefferson). Did they find gold with Robinson II here, or has his NFL timing forever been ruined by bad quarterback play?
A punter controversy? Maybe. Special teams can’t outright win you games in the NFL, but you sure can lose a game because of them.
Dixon was a curious signing from the start. The Rams moved on from Johnny Hekker after 10 years, which is a long time for a punter. He was coming off a year where he averaged 44.2 yards a kick.
Dixon was in Kicker Heaven in Denver (thin air) for a few years, then went to the Giants. His average has declined the last two years and in his six-year career, he’s had five kicks blocked (red flag).
Hekker only had three in his years with the Rams. Is this a spot where the Rams went cheap and will eventually pay the price? Or will rookie Cameron Dicker beat out Dixon for the job?
Darrell Henderson Jr.
You look at the Rams depth chart at running back and it’s like, someone is going to be the odd man out. Henderson Jr. ran for 688 yards last year and caught a career-high 29 passes, but he’s been injured at the end of all three seasons.
The Rams should have a fully-healthy Cam Akers and drafted Kyren Williams out of Notre Dame. Henderson Jr. is in the last year of his four-year contract. He needs a good camp. The numbers are against him.
Free agency works differently in the NFL than it does in Major League Baseball because in baseball, you can plug in an outfielder and his job stays basically the same: get hits, throw the ball to cut-off man, give media clichés in post-game press conference.
Football doesn’t work that way. Players who are stars on one team sign somewhere else, but the scheme and philosophy don’t sync up with what the player does well.
Wagner just turned 32 and is coming off a career season with 170 tackles. He’s a six-time All-Pro selection with Seattle. He’ll probably fit in like a dream with the Rams, but I expect some growing pains as he adjusts to what the Rams want.
The Rams showed their faith in Noteboom signing him to a three-year $40 million deal. He’s played all over the offensive line in his three years. Versatility is a good thing for an offensive lineman. But he’s only made 17 career starts and now may be taking over at left tackle for Andrew Whitworth, you know, protecting Stafford’s blindside.
Does he have the goods to do this? It’s a big jump from being a versatile offensive lineman to protecting the franchise.
The Rams second round pick in 2021 ran back a few kicks last season but other than that was nowhere to be seen in the offense.
There’s a spot here for him as the Rams fourth or fifth wide receiver. He showed good speed and hands in a record-setting career at Louisville but was a disappointment. Was last year an NFL redshirt year for him, or have the Rams seen what he can do in practice and think he’s just not an NFL wide receiver.
Players like this flame out in the NFL all the time and it’s never made public why.
Some guys like the happy smoke too much, some guys get fat, some just aren’t smart enough to handle an NFL playbook. It’s only year two, but this is Atwell’s make-or-break shot.