The Rams selected Joe Noteboom in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft with the aim of making him the heir apparent to veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Noteboom will get an extended audition during the rest of this season.
Whitworth sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee during the Rams’ 23-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks and will be put on injured reserve, coach Sean McVay said Monday.
McVay said Whitworth could be sidelined for six to eight weeks, but his injury would not require surgery.
“We were all worried it was for sure going to be season ending and that’s not going to be the case,” McVay said during a videoconference with reporters.
The Rams (6-3) play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) on Monday night in Tampa, Fla. It is the first of seven remaining games, so Whitworth, who turns 39 next month, could conceivably return for the end of the regular season or perhaps the playoffs if the Rams qualify.
Whitworth is not the only player headed to injured reserve.
Safety Taylor Rapp suffered a knee sprain against the Seahawks, and kicker Kai Forbath an ankle injury. Rapp could be out for three to four weeks, McVay said.
Whitworth has been a pillar of McVay’s offense since signing with the Rams in 2017 after playing 11 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection has started every game except for the 2017 finale against the San Francisco 49ers, when McVay rested starters in advance of the playoffs.
On Sunday, Whitworth was carted from the SoFi Stadium field during the second quarter after he collided with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright while attempting to protect quarterback Jared Goff.
“I’m so thankful! God has blessed me with such an amazing 15 years playing @nfl football,” Whitworth wrote on Instagram. “And now I get an opportunity to lead in a different way while also rehabbing myself back ready to ride with my teammates! I get a chance to put my leadership to test. Who am I in adversity? Is it really about more than just me? How hard can I push myself to return? What can I pour into my teammates from the sideline? What an amazing Opp!”
Noteboom, 6 feet 5 and 321 pounds, played tackle in college at Texas Christian but started at left guard for the Rams the last two seasons before suffering knee injuries.
“Joe is a guy that we’ve always anticipated and projected as somebody that we do feel like is starting-caliber left tackle in this league,” McVay said. “He’s got the length, the athleticism. … You’ll certainly miss Andrew and everything that he means to us but whether you look at it as an audition I think it’s an opportunity for Joe to step up and I expect him to play really well for us.”
Noteboom played as a reserve as a rookie and began 2019 starting alongside Whitworth. But Noteboom suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the sixth game against the 49ers and underwent surgery.
He reclaimed his starting role during training camp, but suffered another knee injury in this season’s second game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Second-year pro David Edwards stepped in for Noteboom and has remained the starter.
Against the Buccaneers, the offensive line will include Noteboom, Bobby Evans, center Austin Blythe, right guard Austin Corbett and right tackle Rob Havenstein.
With Rapp sidelined, John Johnson and rookie Jordan Fuller will be the starting safeties, and Nick Scott will play in a rotational role.
Kicker Austin MacGinnis is on the practice squad, but McVay said the Rams would also bring in kicker Matt Gay, who made 27 of 35 field-goal attempts for the Buccaneers last season. Gay will be signed from the Colts practice squad. He could join the Rams by Saturday if he clears COVID-19 protocols, McVay said.
The Rams’ kicking woes have been a season-long issue.
After deciding not to re-sign veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein, the Rams began the season with rookie Samuel Sloman. They waived Sloman late last month after several kicks were blocked. The problems continued when Forbath missed a field-goal attempt against the Miami Dolphins and then missed an extra-point attempt against the Seahawks.
McVay lamented the loss of certainty that Zuerlein provided.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how good you have it until you don’t anymore, and I think that’s the honest answer,” he said. “It’s been a struggle.”