LOS ANGELES RAMS (15-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, UC Irvine, Irvine, California.
LAST YEAR: Reached first Super Bowl in 17 years to cap incredible two-year transformation under coach Sean McVay. Though lifeless offensive performance in that loss to New England still stings, everything else about season was breakthrough that put Rams in driver’s seat to win LA’s affection over rival Chargers. Won second straight NFC West title and went 6-0 against division foes while going 7-1 at Coliseum. Finished second in NFL with 527 points and more strong play from QB Jared Goff, at least until late in season. McVay got his signature win when Rams beat Kansas City 54-51 in one of most memorable Monday night games in NFL history. Otherwise, defense was stout behind Aaron Donald, who finally got big contract and promptly won second straight Defensive Player of Year award. Beat Dallas in first playoff contest and squeaked out road win over New Orleans in NFC title game marred by missed officiating call. Managed only three points in lowest-scoring Super Bowl.
CAMP NEEDS: Rams allowed several veterans to get away in offseason, and they left holes in starting lineup. Weddle should fit seamlessly into Joyner’s spot at safety, even if veteran is one year older than McVay. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be eager to find ways to use Matthews in former USC star’s return to Coliseum. Saffold and Sullivan are gone from dependable offensive line, and second-year pros Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen must show they can play immediately. Rookie lineman Greg Gaines could be new nose tackle in place of Suh, but must prove he’s ready for challenge. Rams also will keep eye on RB Todd Gurley, whose balky knee gets more attention than many Hollywood stars these days.
EXPECTATIONS: Contention for second straight Super Bowl trip, which would be unprecedented in franchise history. While Rams lost some talent, most major components are returning for McVay, who was personally stung by offense’s ineptitude in Super Bowl. Goff still has plenty to prove in fourth pro season while angling for next contract, and he’ll have dependable receiver Cooper Kupp back from injury. Seems silly to describe conference champions as needing bounce-back season, but Rams are eager to prove they can finish strong this winter.
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