The NFL preseason is officially coming to a close. For their fourth exhibition game, the Rams will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers on Thursday night. This trip will represent the team's last game action before they open up the regular season on Sept. 10 against the Colts.
Head coach Sean McVay announced earlier this week that the starters on offense and defense would not take the field for Thursday's game.
"We've made the decision that we were going to get a chance to evaluate the guys that we're not projecting as starters and get them an opportunity to compete against Green Bay," McVay said on Monday.
This year the NFL made a rule change allowing teams to carry a full 90-man roster all the way through the preseason. And while that allows many players who, in the past, might have been cut after Week 3 an extra opportunity to participate, it also means the Rams will have to cut down nearly half of their active roster to 53 men.
Check out photos from Rams practice prior to their preseason matchup with the Packers.
As such, Thursday night will provide one final opportunity for many of the players vying for a roster spot to showcase their skills to both Los Angeles' coaching staff and the rest of the leagu.
"I think it's going to offer a great opportunity to see a lot of players that, at some point just based on the way an NFL season goes, we'll probably be relying on, where they'll start out maybe providing depth but you never know what ends up happening," McVay said. "[And] I think it offers the unique opportunity for a handful of guys that would've been cut, to be able to put some good game film on tape. If it doesn't work out for us, hopefully it will work out for one of the other 31 teams."
McVay has reiterated throughout the week that he is looking forward to evaluating a variety of different players on both sides of the ball, as well as on special teams.
"Every single position is so important. It's going to a great opportunity to evaluate some of those guys that fill will in those depth positions," he said. "Whether it be the inside linebacker position, some of those additional rushers that we're looking at, guys that are going to be your backup lineman, in addition to the five guys that we're counting on being our starters."
On offense, quarterback Sean Mannion has gotten a lot of preseason reps this year behind projected starter Jared Goff. Mannion completed 49-of-76 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions throughout three games. But instead of Mannion at the helm this week, expect to see Dan Orlovsky taking the majority of snaps in the preseason finale.
As far as wide receivers go, the Rams have a lot of depth. And while receivers like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, and Sammy Watkins have solidified roles in McVay's offense, Thursday should give the other six receivers a chance to showcase their own set of unique skills.
Rotational options like Pharoh Cooper and Josh Reynolds bring a lot of athleticism to the table. These two along with Brandon Shippen and Paul McRoberts should provide a challenge for the Packers' secondary. In addition, it will be exciting to watch wide receiver Shakeir Ryan on both offense and special teams as he looks to carve out a roster spot for himself.
The Rams' tight end group will be another to keep an eye on in Thursday night's game. Last week against the chargers, tight end Temarrick Hemingway went down with a fractured fibula which will keep him sidelined for an extended time. McVay characterized Hemingway as a player who has done "a lot of really good things on the line of scrimmage [and] especially in the run game." Although losing Hemingway before the regular season is "a big loss" for the team, the Rams do have a few other tight ends who will be looking to step up in his absence.
"I think the immediate guys that are going to be asked more of them in the run game are Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett and then obviously what Cory Harkey has been to this organization over the last couple years, offers him an opportunity to step up," McVay said earlier this week. "I think we'll get a chance to see Johnny Mundt and Travis Wilson looking forward to this Green Bay game where they'll get a lot of snaps and it will be a great opportunity for us to evaluate them as well."
Finally, on defense the Rams will be looking to add players to fill the bottom of their roster and add necessary depth on the line and in the secondary. On the D-Line look for defensive tackles Tanzel Smart and Mike Purcell to step up alongside defensive end Morgan Fox. While defensive backs like Marqui Christian and Blake Countess will be battling for a free safety role.
Kickoff for the preseason finale is set for 4 P.M. at Lambeau Field. For information on how to watch the game, click here.