THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams' regular-season opener, at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 10, is less than two weeks away. They'll play their final preseason game in Green Bay on Thursday, then trim their roster from 90 to 53 players by Saturday. The most difficult decisions will probably come at wide receiver, running back, defensive line and linebacker. But first-year coach Sean McVay needs to settle a lot of other matters before the games start counting. Below is a list of the five most important things to clear up.
1. Chemistry between Goff and Watkins: Jared Goff and Sammy Watkins have had only eight practices and two games together. They have connected only two times in five tries against the Chargers and Raiders. On Saturday, in a 21-19 loss, Goff threw to Watkins only once and wound up with an interception. He said afterward that his chemistry with Watkins has "come a long way," though he admitted that it still needs work. "The more reps you get with him, the more he can trust you and the more comfortable he is with throwing the ball to you, and the more you get open," Watkins said last week. "That's the best thing ever."
2. Continuity on defense: The Rams played only two defensive starters in their third preseason game, a time when established players usually see their most action. Three of their starters -- outside linebacker Robert Quinn, inside linebacker Mark Barron and cornerback Kayvon Webster -- won't end up playing in any preseason games. And then there's Aaron Donald, whose holdout continues. The Rams haven't been able to build much continuity on defense, where they are transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under Wade Phillips. But Webster, Quinn and Barron are all expected to practice this week. And, as defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks said, "The biggest thing is practice. You need that game experience, but you can get it in practice."
3. Finding replacements for Easley and Hemingway: Defensive lineman Dominique Easley suffered a torn ACL early in training camp, and tight end Temarrick Hemingway recently suffered a fractured fibula that will require surgery. The Rams are still sorting out who will take their place. In base sets, Easley was set to start alongside Donald and Michael Brockers. Now it looks like Morgan Fox, Tanzel Smart and Westbrooks are the ones who will get the most snaps in Easley's absence. Hemingway was the third tight end, after Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, but he was still going to have a role in the offense. The next guy in line is probably Cory Harkey, a veteran run-blocker who doesn't bring Hemingway's skills and athleticism as a receiver.
4. Getting it right on the right side: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan -- three guys with a combined 27 years of NFL experience -- have been solid this summer. But third-year players Jamon Brown (right guard) and Rob Havenstein (right tackle) are still trying to work it out. Brown was at right tackle and Havenstein was at right guard during the offseason program and in the early part of training camp, but McVay flipped them back to the positions they are most comfortable at in the NFL. The two have received a sizable amount of snaps in the first three preseason games. And though McVay has expressed satisfaction with their play, they can do a lot better.
5. Figure out how Austin fits: Tavon Austin has barely practiced, first because of wrist surgery in the spring and then because of a hamstring injury in the summer. But McVay said Sunday that Austin has made "huge progress" and will nonetheless be ready for the season opener. "We're going to have to start brainstorming some ways to utilize Tavon in that game, which will be fun," McVay said. The Rams were initially hoping that Austin, 5-foot-8, could establish himself as a vertical threat on the outside. But Watkins fills that role now. Robert Woods, a solid possession receiver, is their No. 2 guy. And third-round pick Cooper Kupp has established a role in the slot. Austin is fourth on the depth chart, but the Rams value his speed and still want to get him the ball in space.