Mailbag: Which team will challenge the Rams for the NFC West? 

While the NFL has technically been in its offseason since early February, we’ve finally reached the true portion of the off period in football. After completing minicamps, players and coaches around the league are off on vacation — resting up for the marathon of the season that’ll begin with training camp in late July.

But while they’re all off, we’re still here to answer your questions. So let’s see what you’ve got this week.

It is early and we probably won’t have a true idea of how competitive the NFC West will be until after the first quarter of the season.

But, really, I think there are arguments for all three of the Rams’ divisional opponents to challenge the NFC West crown.

The Seahawks, for instance, have won at least nine games every year since Russell Wilson arrived in 2012 — and have had double-digit wins and made the playoffs in six of Wilson’s seven seasons. As long as he’s the signal-caller, Seattle will be competitive. Last year was supposed to be a down year, and the Seahawks still won 10 games and took the Cowboys down to the wire in the Wild Card round.

In San Francisco, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has recovered well from tearing his ACL last season by all accounts. Pairing him with record-setting tight end George Kittle for a full season could give the 49ers a prolific offense. And the Niners just selected defensive lineman Nick Bosa at No. 2 overall. He’s likely going to be a thorn in the sides of all NFC West opponents for years to come.

Then down in Arizona, who knows exactly what that offense is going to look like with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray? The No. 1 overall pick and former Heisman winner is often going to be the fastest player on the field, and he’ll have the ball in his hands every play. And you can say whatever you’d like about the Cardinals going 3-13 last year, but we’ve seen in L.A. how quickly things can turn around with a new head coach.

Maybe that’s me hedging on the question, but it really could be any one of those three teams. But that’s why they play the games — you’ve got to settle it on the field.

So this is an interesting question because as run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer would tell you, it’s pretty hard to evaluate offensive lineman without pads. And the Rams won’t be in pads until early August, after the first couple training camp practices.

However, what you can tell is footwork, communication — things like that.

John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold are not going to be easy to replace. But I think the advantage the Rams have is that both Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom were on the roster last year, and are already fully integrated into Los Angeles’ offensive system. Now, how exactly is that going to translate when the Rams take the field? It’s going to be better than if they were rookies, that’s for sure.

And it can’t hurt that Goff and Allen apparently play Fortnite together, discussing protections over the headset.

But inherently you’re right — the Rams will have to still be strong up front in order to make a playoff run.

Well, first things first — the Rams have to make the playoffs, and that’s no guarantee. And it’s going to be difficult to replace Suh’s production on the defensive line simply from the standpoint of his snap count.

He was on the field for nearly 88 percent of Los Angeles’ defensive snaps. That’s a whopping number for a defensive lineman, and it’s likely going to mean that the Rams will have to rotate more players in defensively.

And that’s not the worst thing. L.A. drafted defensive tackle Greg Gaines to be a plug in the middle of the field. Plus, the club already had Sebastian Joseph-Day, who recently told me that he learned a lot from sitting behind Suh last year.

I’d be lying if I said it’s going to be easy to replace Suh — of course it isn’t. He’s been a dominant force in the league for years.

But the Rams do have a plan to make their run defense better over the course of the entire season. We’ll see if it works.

Man, what am I doing? A lot of planning, but also trying to relax a bit because, well, we just don’t get time to do that for a long time after late July — especially working for a team that has aspirations for a deep playoff run.

But I think in training camp, I’m most looking forward to a few things — the competition at nose tackle between the aforementioned Sebastian Joseph-Day and Greg Gaines is one of them. Can tight end Gerald Everett continue taking steps to be the breakout player of the offense this season? How healthy is wide receiver Cooper Kupp? He sure looked like he was going to be OK during the offseason program.

Also how is the secondary going to look different with safety Eric Weddle? I don’t mean this as a dig at anyone who was in the secondary previously, but I think his experience and knowledge of offenses can really bring something extra to the group.

We’ll start to see how it all turns out in a little over a month.

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