11 Rams storylines to follow during training camp

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Before the Los Angeles Rams take on the Chicago Bears in prime time on Sept. 12, they’ll go through training camp at UC Irvine for a couple of weeks. Camp will help them sort out key position battles, figure out which players on the bubble will make the 53-man roster and install their schemes on offense and defense.

With a new quarterback, defensive coordinator and several new starters on defense, there’s plenty to watch as the Rams kick off training camp this week. Here are the 11 biggest, beginning with Matthew Stafford’s acclimation in Los Angeles with his new team.

Matthew Stafford’s adjustment to new team and scheme

(Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register via AP)

For the first time since 2008, Stafford won’t be heading to Detroit Lions training camp. He spent 12 years with the Lions, so he had a routine and was obviously used to the team’s offseason program. Now, he’ll be with a new team in a new city with new receivers and a completely different offensive scheme. He’s a smart player so it shouldn’t take him long to get acclimated to the Rams’ system or to build chemistry with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and his receivers, but it’s still a storyline as he begins the next chapter of his career. This will be the best look at Stafford for Rams fans ahead of the season, with the physicality of practice kicked up a notch compared to OTAs and minicamp

How Darrell Henderson Jr. performs as RB1

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The Rams don’t plan to sign a free-agent running back right now after losing Cam Akers to an Achilles injury, which puts a lot on Henderson’s shoulders. He’ll be the starter for Los Angeles, a role he held last season when Akers was injured. There’s no reason to believe he can't put together a 1,000-yard season, but the Rams will probably opt to spell him a decent amount with Xavier Jones and possibly Jake Funk in order to keep everyone fresh. If he struggles in camp, Jones could see an even larger role the initially expected.

Raheem Morris’ wrinkles on defense

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

For the most part, the Rams’ defensive scheme will remain the same as it was last season under Brandon Staley. But Morris is stepping in as the new defensive coordinator and he’ll add his own wrinkles to the system. Will he move Jalen Ramsey around even more than Staley did? Will Aaron Donald get increased opportunities to rush off the edge? Will there be more stunts up front, blitzes from the slot and an uptick in man coverage? We won’t get a ton of insight into Morris’ plan because the Rams don’t want to give anything away, but players should still discuss some of the differences from last year to now.

Offensive line shuffling

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In addition to having a new offensive line coach in Kevin Carberry, the Rams will also likely have new starters at center and right guard. Austin Corbett is expected to shift to center, which opens up a spot at right guard, which Bobby Evans is projected to fill – at least based on the reps during OTAs and minicamp. The offensive line was solid last season, but the interior is now a question mark following Austin Blythe’s departure. If Corbett struggles at center or Evans can't hold up inside at guard, the entire unit will regress.

Tutu Atwell’s role on offense

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Atwell will likely compete for reps in the return game, but it’s still not known what his role will be on offense. McVay will have to devise and plan for the rookie, whether it’s as a deep threat, a gadget player or a traditional outside receiver. We’ll get some clarity on his projected position in camp when the Rams trot out their offense, with Atwell likely working with the second- or third-team. His speed is evident, but will he be able to win over the middle and in traffic as an undersized wideout?

Inside linebacker competition

(AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

When the first-team defense heads onto the field for the first set of 11-on-11 drills, there will be a lot of eyes on the linebacker position. Ernest Jones, Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard and Kenny Young will all be competing for the two starting roles, as will Christian Rozeboom. Any of those players could emerge as the No. 1 linebacker, but none of their jobs (except for Jones) are secure heading into the regular season. There will be a lot of shuffling at this spot with so much uncertainty in the middle of the defense.

Replacing Nsimba Webster in the return game

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Webster was surprisingly waived before camp, which leaves the door wide open for someone to secure the punt return role. There are plenty of candidates on the roster, ranging from Atwell and DeSean Jackson to Jake Funk and Landen Akers. The Rams don’t have a clear-cut replacement for Webster right now, but training camp will settle the competition – at least out of the gate for Week 1. It’s been a weak spot since Pharoh Cooper was released, but the Rams need to find a consistent and reliable player in the return game.

Johnny Hekker’s standing as Rams’ punter

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The Rams signed Corey Bojorquez this offseason and it wasn’t necessarily the quietest move. Sean McVay wouldn’t say he’ll push Hekker for the punter job, but Les Snead seemed to leave the door open a little bit. “Well, I think anytime you go to the practice field it’s a competition, but no,” Snead said of whether there will be a punter competition. Hekker struggled in the second half of last season, and the Rams already had a camp leg on the roster in Brandon Wright, so the addition of Bojorquez – who has arguably the strongest leg in the NFL – is noteworthy. In all likelihood, Hekker will remain the punter, but if Bojorquez outplays him but a wide margin, things could get interesting.

Van Jefferson vs. DeSean Jackson

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

We know Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp will be the top two receivers, but there will be a battle for snaps at WR3 between Jefferson and Jackson. They’re different players stylistically, with Jefferson being more like Kupp and Woods, and Jackson being a deep threat. Both will have a role this season and will contribute on offense, but there isn't much clarity on who will get more snaps behind Kupp and Woods. Jefferson is a well-rounded player and deserves a bigger role like the one Josh Reynolds played, but Jackson was signed this offseason to contribute as the deep threat, so he won’t be kept on the bench.

Finding a new nickel DB

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Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams and Troy Hill played the majority of the snaps at cornerback for the Rams last season, but Hill is now a member of the Browns. So a new corner will need to step up in the nickel role alongside Ramsey and Williams. David Long Jr. has a great shot to earn that job, while Robert Rochell and Terrell Burgess could also factor into the equation as nickel defenders. The same goes for Donte Deayon, who’s undersized but a player the Rams really like. With how often the Rams use nickel and dime packages, this is a critical position on defense.

A’Shawn Robinson’s fit at DE

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Michael Brockers is gone after being traded by the Rams, and Robinson is expected to take his spot at defensive end. He’s slimmed down some and should have better movement skills, which is important for the 5-technique spot. Hopefully he can offer more as a pass rusher than Brockers did, though he should also contribute at nose tackle in a rotation with Sebastian Joseph-Day. Robinson will be a key player for Los Angeles in a bigger role than last season, bringing some great run defense as well as pass-rush upside.

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