Darrell Henderson won’t play. Cooper Kupp will.
That’s the best guess about two important players’ chances of being ready for the Rams’ season-opening game in less than two weeks after hearing coach Sean McVay’s injury updates Monday.
The Rams’ health issues this month have been nothing like what people feared when NFL teams went to training camp amid risks of COVID-19 outbreaks and injuries caused by unusual practice schedules.
But injuries to Henderson (hamstring), linebacker Travin Howard (knee) and safety Taylor Rapp (knee) could affect decisions before Saturday’s roster cutdown, preparations for the Week 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys, and who’s on the field at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night, Sept. 13.
And Kupp (sore ankle) may be held out of practice for a few days as a precaution, although McVay said the wide receiver does not have an ankle sprain, contrary to an NFL Network report Sunday.
Henderson’s hamstring, hurt in the Rams’ first intrasquad scrimmage at SoFi on Aug. 22, will continue to keep him out of practice when practice resumes Tuesday, but McVay wouldn’t rule out the running back being ready for Dallas.
“He’s progressing right now,” McVay said. “Those soft-tissue injuries, especially for an explosive player like him, you don’t want to rush him back and then set him back a couple of weeks.”
It sounds as if Henderson could play in Week 1 even if he misses more practice reps with the offense.
“Maybe if it was his rookie year, you’d say you wouldn’t feel as great about it,” McVay said. “But I think with the grasp of the offense and the ownership that he’s demonstrated when he has been able to practice, I feel better about that.”
Henderson has been competing for carries with rookie Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown and John Kelly as the Rams sort out how to replace Todd Gurley, who was released in March.
With Henderson out of the second SoFi scrimmage on Saturday, Kelly got the ball more and had a 3-yard touchdown run for the second-string offense against the second-string defense.
Rapp will be eased back into practice this week for the first time since he was sidelined Aug. 18 with what McVay called a “little knee” problem.
Rapp, like Henderson, could play against the Cowboys despite missing a lot of practice under a new coordinator. But McVay said he’d “ideally like him to have more reps.” And the coach indicated rookie safeties Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller can step in.
“It’s a shame,” McVay said of Rapp’s injury, “because just right when you felt like he was doing a great job and getting a grasp of some of the newer things that we’re doing, he ended up having that setback.”
Howard’s knee injury, which kept him out of the second scrimmage, came as he was battling with Troy Reeder, Micah Kiser and Kenny Young for snaps at inside linebacker.
McVay said the Rams are “monitoring” Howard, and then talked up the other three young candidates at the position.
“I was really encouraged with Kenny,” McVay said, referring to the UCLA alum’s scrimmage performance. “I think Micah continued to demonstrate why you felt so good about him coming out of Virginia.”
Kupp came out of Saturday’s scrimmage after feeling soreness in an ankle that had bothered him for “the last couple of days,” but it isn’t sprained and X-rays showed no injury, McVay said.
“There was no injury to report,” McVay said Monday. “It was more just, hey, the goal is to make sure he’s as healthy as possible for the 13th.”
With Kupp out, rookie Van Jefferson became the third wide receiver behind Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds on Saturday and caught a Jared Goff pass for a 30-yard gain.
The season’s first official injury reports will come next week. Until then, the only Rams players officially sidelined are tackle Chandler Brewer, who opted out of playing in 2020 because a 2018 cancer battle that leaves him vulnerable to COVID-19, and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, on the active/no-football-injury list with a cardiovascular condition.
After a players’ day off Monday, the Rams practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Thousand Oaks, marking the unofficial end of training camp before starting their regular-season routine next week.
Saturday is the deadline for NFL teams to cut down to their 53-man regular-season roster. The Rams essentially must cut 11 players (instead of the usual 27). That’s because pandemic protocols caused training-camp rosters to be set at 80 (instead of the normal 90) and regular-season practice squads at 16 (instead of the normal 10).