Rams starters focused on only action of summer in crucial practices with Bengals

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has not faced an opposing team’s defense since February, when he led the Rams to victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

On Wednesday, Stafford will see the Bengals again when the Rams hold the first of two joint practices with the defending AFC champions.

Coach Sean McVay does not play starters during preseason games, so the workouts offer Stafford and other frontline players a lone opportunity to run plays against someone other than teammates before the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s a heck of a test for us going up against our defense every single day, but I think it’s good for both sides of [the] ball,” Stafford said last week. “Just see something different. Feels like a game. … As long as everybody keeps their head on straight and doesn’t go too crazy or we have to call practice earlier or whatever that is, I think it’s a positive.”

Joint practices are structured for players to operate in game-like conditions, though in a semi-controlled setting that ostensibly reduces the chance of injury.

The main goal for McVay and Bengals coach Zac Taylor — a former Rams assistant under McVay — is for both teams to emerge unscathed.

“We don’t want any sort of cheap stuff,” McVay said. “We have no place for fighting. … We can’t afford to miss it for dumb” stuff.

This is the second time during McVay’s tenure that the Rams have traveled out of state for joint practices. In 2018, they practiced with the Baltimore Ravens before a preseason game.

McVay said the Rams will run more than 90 plays during the two days of workouts, which will precede the preseason finale between the teams Saturday at Paycor Stadium.

Rosters must be cut to 53 players by next Tuesday.

The Rams do not game plan for the practices, which can serve more as a testing lab for the offense, defense and special teams, McVay said.

“Sometimes the best learning ops, whether it be for coaches or players, can occur where there’s really no ramifications, except for go out, don’t be afraid to fail,” McVay said.

In the Super Bowl, star defensive lineman Aaron Donald clinched the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Bengals by pressuring quarterback Joe Burrow into a desperation toss that fell incomplete.

Donald is looking forward to lining up across from players other than Rams offensive linemen.

“It’s just more going against somebody different,” he said. “Getting to work, and getting to compete against somebody other than … your own team.”

The practices also offer opportunity for young players possibly to work with starters.

Receiver Lance McCutcheon, for example, has played well in preseason games against the Chargers and Houston Texans, catching passes from reserve quarterbacks John Wolford and Bryce Perkins.

But the practices might afford McCutcheon, an undrafted free agent pushing for a roster spot, the chance to work in situations with Stafford, Cooper Kupp and other starters.

How many of the Rams starters on offense and defense participate in the practices remains to be seen.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and inside linebacker Ernest Jones did not practice Monday because of illness. Running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson have been sidelined for a week for what McVay has described as “soft-tissue” injuries.

Rookie Kyren Williams is expected to take first-team reps.

With Coleman Shelton possibly sidelined because of a lower-body injury and rookie Logan Bruss out for the season because of a knee injury suffered against the Texans, third-year pro Tremayne Anchrum could take first-team snaps at right guard.

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