Jan 18, 2024

Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald make most of joint practices with Raiders

Senior Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Rams' approach to the preseason indeed looks different than years past, except for one key element: Established starters like quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald still are not going to see the field.

Thus, joint practices like the two this week with the Raiders are the closest to live game reps they will get leading into the regular season.

"It's been good," Donald said after Thursday's practice. "It was good work. Not too much stuff, but obviously football is football. You're going to have those days when (it's) a little chippy but it comes with it. But it was a good day's work."

For Donald, this is another layer to preparing for the regular season.

While he has faced slide protection going against the Rams' offensive line throughout training camp, not every team does it the same. What he looks to get out of joint practices and those matchups is no different than any other training camp practice.

And the reps are still valuable, even if he's pretty much seen it all when it comes to the different ways opponents use slide protections against him.

"Obviously just like any other day of practice, you're going to get the slide protection so you getting it different here, little over slide with a two-hand puncher now, so trying to work different things to get off that and then a center clamp," Donald said. And so it's good to watch, try to practice against, try to find ways to defeat it. Got to watch the film and see what I got to do better. But it isn't anything but to get you better at the end of the day, so just like any other practice, you just work, try to work what you can work, obviously you're going to get different looks, different things and you just try to find ways to clean up and get better."

The difference with Donald on the field was noticeable for the Rams defense after he had a rest day Wednesday, making a couple run stops and also generating pressure on the interior to disrupt a pass by Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that Rams defensive back Robert Rochell broke up. However, when reflecting on his performance Thursday, Donald indicated he wasn't satisfied.

"I feel like I ain't where I want to be," Donald said. "But I feel like I'm getting better. I did some good things and I did some things I didn't like. Me, personally, I didn't think I had the type of practice I wanted to. So I just got to watch the film and see what I did wrong, or see what I need to do better. I'm always my worst critic. So just got to continue to study, continue to find ways to be better."

The Rams don't gameplan for these practices, instead using them to test their offensive and defensive rules. Stafford said the environment allowed Los Angeles to go up against a "very different" style of defense compared to what it faces every day. He said it's not quite the same as a live game because the teams aren't tackling each other, "but the juices are definitely higher when you're playing against another team."

These joint practices were also another chance for Stafford, the Rams' offensive line and the Rams' receivers to get in sync. Stafford after Wednesday's practice was pleased with the plays they were able to make downfield in that regard. As for the offensive line coming together, he said it's "a constant learning thing."

"We're trying to figure out what we're going to be good at, what our certain guys are good at<" Stafford said after Wednesday's practice. "I thought they did a nice job setting their pads in the run game, had some nice creases in there. (Running back) Kyren (Williams) ran it well. For the most part, I had some time back there. Now, (Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx) Crosby's a heck of a player and was in the backfield a few times. I got to go watch the tape. Anytime he gets within five feet of me he's yelling sack in my face so I have no idea if those are real. I'm not just an absolute statue back there. I can move a little bit, so I got to go check it out and look at it. He's obviously a great player in this league, really competitive guy, fun guy to practice against. He's bringing the energy down in and down out."

Like Donald, Stafford also sees value in this kind of setting when it comes to preparing for the upcoming season.

"Yeah, we just want to go see un-scouted, unscripted how the things that we feel like we're executing at a high level or whatever rules wise, do those still hold up?" said Stafford, when asked if he evaluates anything differently in terms of the Rams' offensive rules in a setting like Wednesday's and Thursday's. "There's going to be things that we're going to learn just practicing against the different defense and say, 'Huh, if we said we liked it versus this, but maybe we don't.' Or we said, 'We didn't like it, but man, it actually looks okay.' So there's plenty of those things that we'll see after we watch the tape."