Stetson Bennett learns hard lesson in loss

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 19: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett.

Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett looks to pass during the first half of a 34-17 preseason loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium on Saturday. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Rams, 34-17, in a preseason game on Saturday night at SoFi Stadium. Here are observations from the Rams’ loss:

Stetson Bennett learning curve

A week after narrowly avoiding potential costly mistakes against the Chargers, Stetson Bennett learned the hard way against the Raiders.

All part of the growing process, according to the rookie quarterback and coach Sean McVay.

“He’s a young player,” McVay said of Bennett, who started for the first time and played into the fourth quarter. “He’s continuing to learn.”

Bennett, the presumptive back-up to Matthew Stafford, completed 15 of 24 passes for 142 yards, and rushed for a touchdown.

But he also had a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

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“I had to handle some bad moments more than I had to [against the Chargers],” Bennett said, adding, “It sucks to have to do, but you’ve got to do it at some point…. The more that that has to happen — hopefully it doesn’t happen that often — then you know how to respond from the bad ones and go on to the good ones.”

Bennett took responsibility for the pass that Raiders safety Isaiah Pola-Mao picked off and returned 50 yards for a touchdown. Bennett said he anticipated that the receiver would run a different route.

“He ran the one that was called and I threw the one that wasn’t,” Bennett said, “and I paid for it.”

Other than his touchdown run, Bennett’s best play was a 25-yard strike to receiver Xavier Smith on a timing route.

“I saw his release, checked the safety and just put it there,” Bennett said. “And while it was in the air I was, ‘Look, look,’ and he did, it was right there and he made a heck of a play.”

Aaron Donald pulls a fast one

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald acknowledges the crowd at SoFi Stadium.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald acknowledges the crowd during a preseason game between the Rams and Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Aug. 12. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

In a surprise move, Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald was in uniform for pregame warmups.

Had Donald played, it would have marked the three-time NFL defensive player of the year’s first preseason game since 2016. But Donald, who carries a team-high salary-cap number of $26 million, wore a sleeveless shirt, cap and sweat pants when the Rams came out of the locker room for the game.

McVay said Donald’s appearance in warmups was kind of a “dress rehearsal” for the 10th-year pro because he will not travel with the team to Denver for joint practices and the final preseason game.

Donald and his wife are expecting a baby that is due “any day,” McVay said.

Like Donald did on Saturday, established and projected starters who will not play in preseason games will go through pregame preparations and warmups in Denver, McVay said.

John Johnson III getting up to speed

Rams safety John Johnson III runs off the field

Rams safety John Johnson III (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Near the end of training camp, the Rams signed veteran safety John Johnson III to a veteran-minimum contract.

Johnson, who played for the Rams from 2017 to 2020, spent most of the last two weeks getting into football shape.

He started against the Raiders and made four tackles.

“I feel like practice was much harder — I was thinking a lot,” he said. “I went out there [in the game] and it was kind of natural, like my body just did the right thing.”

Rams tight end Davis Allen, right, is tackled by Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Drake Thomas.

Rams tight end Davis Allen, right, is tackled by Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Drake Thomas (57) during the second half Saturday. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

With veteran Tyler Higbee physically sound for the start of his eighth NFL season, and fourth-year pro Brycen Hopkins showing improved consistency, the Rams are two deep at tight end.

But under McVay, the Rams have been at their best when they have three reliable tight ends. Think Higbee, Gerald Everett and Johnny Mundt.

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Rookie Davis Allen, a fifth-round draft pick from Clemson who sat out against the Chargers because of a hamstring injury, showed Saturday he could figure in the equation.

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Allen was targeted eight times — and he caught eight passes for 53 yards.

“You can see he’s got a big catch radius, good soft hands,” McVay said. “It was an awesome debut for him.”

Rams linebacker Jake Hummel celebrates with Robert Rochell after scoring on an interception return.
Rams linebacker Jake Hummel (35) celebrates with Robert Rochell (8) after scoring on an interception return against the Raiders on Saturday. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Rams do not put much of a premium on paying inside linebackers, so there is plenty of opportunity for undrafted free agents to make a mark.

Second-year pro Jake Hummel did that during the 2022 preseason, and he did it again against the Raiders.

Hummel intercepted a second-quarter pass by Brian Hoyer and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.

McVay was on the air with the local TV broadcast when the play happened. “This is the only time good s—’s happened when I come on with you guys,” McVay said.

Hummel made five tackles, tied for the team-best.

Still working to be special

A week after giving up an 81-yard touchdown on a punt return against the Chargers, the Rams nearly allowed DeAndre Carter of the Raiders to break another. Carter went 31 yards up the sideline before stepping out of bounds.

Tanner Brown kicked a 25-yard field goal.

Punter Ethan Evans averaged 55.4 yards per kick, with a net average of 38.7 yards.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.