Backup QB battle heating up: What to watch for in Rams vs. Texans

·4 min read
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins (16) points at a teammate during.
Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins directs a teammate during a preseason victory over the Chargers on Saturday. Will Perkins leap over John Wolford in the Rams' quarterback depth chart? (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Until this week, the only preseason drama surrounding the defending Super Bowl champion Rams centered on quarterback Matthew Stafford’s right elbow, and whether the 14th-year pro would be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium and beyond.

Based on his efficient performance during an intrasquad scrimmage this week, Stafford appears to be managing any discomfort caused by tendinitis. Like nearly every Rams starter, he will be ensconced on the SoFi Stadium sideline during Friday night’s preseason game against the Houston Texans.

But there is still quarterback intrigue, courtesy of coach Sean McVay.

After not playing back-up John Wolford during the 2021 preseason or last week against the Chargers, McVay said that Wolford would play the first half against the Texans, Bryce Perkins the second.

Is it simply, as McVay said, an opportunity for Wolford to take game snaps? Or a way to measure whether Perkins can unseat Wolford for the back-up role?

Five areas to watch against the Texans:

Will John Wolford manage the offense effectively?

Rams quarterback John Wolford hands off to running back Darrell Henderson Jr. during a team practice on Aug. 6.
Rams quarterback John Wolford hands off to running back Darrell Henderson Jr. during a team practice on Aug. 6. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Stafford’s workload was reduced during training camp, enabling Wolford to take a lot of snaps with the first-team offense.

Against the Texans, he will be operating with reserves.

Wolford, 26, has not played extensive snaps since the 2020 season.

He started the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals in place of injured Jared Goff, and completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards, with an interception, in an 18-7 victory.

McVay then benched Goff in favor of Wolford for the wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Wolford completed three of six passes for 29 yards before Seahawks safety Jamal Adams tackled him on a late first-quarter scramble, sending Wolford to the hospital with an apparent neck injury.

Last season, Wolford played a combined 24 snaps in three games. He completed one of four passes for five yards.

What does McVay want to see from Wolford?

“Good operation, be able to sustain drives and score points is always the most important thing,” McVay said. “But I think making good decisions, getting us in and out of the right things based on whatever Houston's defense presents and just overall good command.

“A lot of the things that we saw from Bryce last week,” against the Chargers.

Can Bryce Perkins push for a back-up role?

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins scrambles past Chargers linebacker Jamal Davis II.
Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins scrambles past Chargers linebacker Jamal Davis II during Saturday's preseason win. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Perkins earned an opening-game roster spot last season. Now, perhaps, he can make a bid for larger role.

Perkins is coming off a good performance in the 29-22 victory over the Chargers. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and he also rushed for 39 yards in eight carries.

To this point, Perkins has not had the opportunity to have his game performance measured against Wolford’s. On Friday, he gets that chance.

Is receiver Lance McCutcheon on track for a roster spot?

Rams wide receiver Lance McCutcheon participates in practice drills.
Rams wide receiver Lance McCutcheon participates in practice drills. McCutcheon made a big impact in his Rams debut last week. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The 6-foot-3, 202-pound McCutcheon, undrafted from Montana State, caught the attention of coaches during offseason workouts and minicamp with his size, skills, intelligence and work ethic.

A dynamic performance against the Chargers put McCutcheon in contention for a roster spot.

McCutcheon caught five passes for 87 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown that featured him fighting off two defenders for the catch before sprinting 30 yards to the end zone. McCutcheon also had an 11-yard touchdown reception, and he caught a two-point conversion pass.

McCutcheon also plays special teams, adding to his value.

Will outside linebacker Daniel Hardy record a sack?

Rams outside linebacker Daniel Hardy participates in practice drills on Aug. 4.
Rams outside linebacker Daniel Hardy participates in practice drills on Aug. 4. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Hardy, a seventh-round draft pick, is competing for a role in a position group that includes Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis and Chris Garrett.

Hardy had 16½ sacks and 24½ tackles for losses in his final season at Montana State.

Against the Chargers, he started and made three tackles, with one quarterback hit. He also plays on special teams.

Are kicker Matt Gay and punter Riley Dixon due for some reps?

Rams kicker Matt Gay, right, participates in practice drills on Aug. 4.
Rams kicker Matt Gay, right, participates in practice drills on Aug. 4. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Cameron Dicker handled kicking and punting duties against the Chargers, but he was subsequently released.

Last season, Gay made 32 of 34 field-goal attempts and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Dixon, a seventh-year pro, is replacing longtime Rams punter Johnny Hekker.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.