The preseason schedule has concluded. Now comes the tough part.
With three games against the Chargers, Raiders and Broncos, plus joint practices against the Raiders and Cowboys, to evaluate off of, the Rams shift their attention to Tuesday's 1 p.m. pacific time 53-man roster deadline with difficult choices to make ahead.
"The tough decisions, those are positive problems for us," Rams head coach Sean McVay said after Saturday night's preseason finale against the Broncos.
Chief among them after last night's game: Whether or not to keep a third quarterback, and what to do at punter.
With Matthew Stafford and John Wolford not playing throughout the preseason, the offense was mostly directed by Bryce Perkins, who made a strong case to make rostering a third quarterback a consideration for the Rams.
Building on the last-year plus of practice squad experience, he completed 56 of 91 pass attempts for 451 yards and three touchdowns against one interception, also rushing a combined 22 times for 114 yards. His poise while operating the offense against the Raiders and Broncos earned praise from McVay.
"To Bryce's credit, he's definitely making it a very difficult decision," McVay said. "Because you know you got Matthew and you got John, we feel excellent about those guys. But I think Bryce can be really proud of the body of work he put on tape throughout the three weeks of the preseason. I think that's a real credit to (offensive coordinator) Kevin O'Connell and (assistant quarterbacks coach) Zac Robinson."
Perkins likewise credited the coaching he's received since joining the Rams as a big piece to his development. He said people would think he was a starter with how they coached him in practice.
"Whatever happens in these next few days, I know that I'm a better player because these guys gave me a shot," Perkins said. "Whether I'm here or somewhere else, I'm going to take the teachings I learned from the coaches and the players and the staff anywhere I go."
Punter Corey Bojorquez is also in a similar wait-and-see mode as the Rams figure out how to move forward at that position.
He and Johnny Hekker took turns punting in the preseason opener against the Chargers, with each punting twice. Both players then got placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list the morning of the Rams' Week 2 preseason game against the Raiders. After being activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week and with Hekker still on it, Bojorquez handled punting duties in the preseason finale against the Broncos, averaging 55.4 yards per punt across five punts, including a 48-yarder and a 70-yarder that each ended at the Broncos 1-yard line.
"It is very clear that you have two starting punters on our roster, and that's a positive thing for us," McVay said. "And so we'll see what that looks like as we move forward."
Bojorquez, who joined the Rams in April, called Hekker "one of the greatest guys I've ever met," and figured by signing with Los Angeles, he'd be able to learn something from Hekker, a four-time AP First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. Sure enough, he credited Hekker's work with him on the banana punt – a side-spinning punt meant to make it more difficult for returners to catch the ball – for giving him the confidence to successfully execute it against the Broncos.
"It's been a fun ride," Bojorquez said. "I just kind of go with the flow, that's usually how I am. Whatever happens, happens."
As is the case each year, there's also the question of how many offensive linemen and defensive linemen the Rams will carry on the initial 53-man roster.
Similar to Perkins, Los Angeles' coaching staff got extended looks at players in both groups thanks to resting several projected starters.
Along the defensive line, Eric Banks (made the initial 53-man roster in 2020) Jonah Williams and Michael Hoecht (spent the 2020 season on their practice squad) – flashed with the opportunities given. Banks and Williams each had one sack and one tackle for loss against the Chargers, with Banks adding another of both against the Raiders. Hoecht had four total tackles and a sack-fumble against the Broncos.
"I think personally I've had a good camp, but I'm gonna let Coach McVay and the other coaches make their decisions," Hoecht said.
"I didn't play perfect, but I gave it my all out there," said offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum Jr., a seventh-round pick last year. "And I feel like I did carve out a place on the team, and I'm giving it to God and praying and hoping that I get to make this 53-man roster, because I truly believe that I can help this team win."
On Thursday, McVay also said the depth at cornerback and safety will present some difficult choices too due to the play of younger defensive backs like defensive back J.R. Reed and safety JuJu Hughes.
"The depth of those rooms, at the corner and the safety positions, is exciting for us," McVay said after Thursday's practice. "There's definitely going to be some really tough decisions."
The Los Angeles Rams take on the Denver Broncos for the final preseason game of the 2021 season.