BALTIMORE — Every year during the preseason, there's one question that looms large before each game:
How much will the starters play?
For Los Angeles' first preseason contest against Baltimore, the answer seems to be, "Not very much."
Head coach Sean McVay declined to specify exactly how much playing time starters would receive following the Rams' second practice with Ravens on Tuesday afternoon. But he did talk about wanting to strike a balance between getting guys work and making sure players aren't exposed to unnecessary risk during games that don't count.
For instance, older veterans like left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan simply don't need as much live work in the preseason to be ready for the regular season. But keeping them on the sideline has a domino effect for other players on the unit — particularly quarterback Jared Goff.
"The thing that's tricky about, especially some of the starters, is, 'OK, now when you're talking about a guy like an Andrew Whitworth who's going into Year 13. If you don't play him then how comfortable do you feel putting Jared out there?'" McVay said. "It's a lot of layers to it where when you try to rest somebody else then it affects how do you want to operate. And I don't think we're ever complacent or content and take the opportunities to get those valuable reps for granted.
"I'm really having a tough time — we've talked about this as a staff — how do you balance the dynamic between getting those preseason reps and then what the risk potentially could happen as a result of if something happens? You can't do that — you can't be scared," McVay continued. "But you also want to be smart and mindful of those couple snaps, does it make a difference between how sharp you can be? Or can you try to mimic and emulate those game-like situations while minimizing the risk.
"Those are things that — I'll be honest — that I struggle with and you continue to learn, and I think as you get more experience you maybe have a little bit more clear-cut philosophy. That's where you feel good about leaning on the assistants and we'll do what we think's best with that."
To that end, McVay said the Rams got good work in during the joint practices with the Ravens. And that could provide somewhat of a substitute for playing time on Thursday night.
"We'll talk amongst our staff about exactly the plan. But the thing that enables you to feel good about being able to get some of this work in is you're able to practice in a way of doing some things that maybe you wouldn't want to do in the preseason," McVay said. "You get a lot of snaps when you kind of eliminate the risk of injury where you're getting some good-on-good going against those guys and that's what the benefit of this is. It's definitely going to be a different approach in the first preseason game. Get a lot of guys out there and just get them comfortable, run some standard plays and get them a chance to just go compete and us to be able to evaluate them."
Any starter asked about his potential playing time over the course of the week gave the standard, "That's up to coach McVay" answer. But Gurley did note there are likely some advantages to just playing the game from certain standpoints.
"I'd probably rather do the preseason honestly because they try to make you do like 12 '100s' instead, which is crazy," Gurley quipped. "So, sometimes it's better to just play in the game honestly."
Still, it seems doubtful that most of the starters will be out there on Thursday night — including Gurley. Instead, look for younger players at each position — like Justin Davis and John Kelly at running back — to play most of the snaps. All four of these exhibition matchups will be important for determining who fills out the depth on the 53-man roster.