Replacing 15-year pro Andrew Whitworth poses a challenge for Rams left tackle Joe Noteboom. To do it against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that is second in the NFL in sacks makes it more difficult.
But Noteboom said Thursday he was prepared to step in for Whitworth, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who could be out six to eight weeks because of a knee injury.
“It’s definitely an irreplaceable guy,” Noteboom said of Whitworth. “I feel that the coaching staff and everyone here, they have a good game plan for this game.
“And watching him for three years, I feel prepared to go in there and do as well as he did.”
Whitworth, 38, sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee during the second quarter of Rams’ 23-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Noteboom, 25, finished the game at left tackle, helping the Rams improve their record to 6-3. But Monday night’s game against the Buccaneers (7-3) in Tampa will be his first start at the position the Rams projected for him when he was selected in the third round of the 2018 draft.
“He’s going to continue to get better with experience,” coach Sean McVay said Thursday. “Just kind of getting his feet wet. … You never truly replace somebody like Andrew Whitworth, but I did like that Joe got a chance to get in there, settled in, had some things that he can definitely learn from against Seattle and now we know what a great challenge it’ll be.”
As a rookie, Noteboom played as a reserve tackle. In 2019, he started at left guard alongside Whitworth before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game. He was the starting left guard this season before suffering another knee injury in the second game against the Philadelphia Eagles and being replaced by David Edwards.
Noteboom came off injured reserve before the game against the Seahawks.
Quarterback Jared Goff said he was confident Noteboom would protect his blindside and play well in place of Whitworth.
“Joe is ready,” Goff said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in Joe and I know he feels comfortable out there at tackle and he’ll do a good job for us.”
Goff has passed for 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He has been sacked 13 times, tied for fifth fewest in the league.
The Buccaneers have amassed 32 sacks, and edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul has a team-best 7½ sacks. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and inside linebacker Devin White each have five sacks and former Rams lineman Ndamukong Suh has four.
Last season, Barrett terrorized Goff with a sack, an interception and a forced fumble in a 55-40 victory at the Coliseum. Goff passed for a career-best 517 yards but had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
“They’re definitely a good defense for sure, a bunch of good players,” Noteboom said. “But I feel like I’d approach it and we’d approach it the same as any other games. But going against a defense like this your first time is definitely a good challenge.”
Noteboom is part of a line that will include Edwards, center Austin Blythe, right guard Austin Corbett and right tackle Rob Havenstein.
Whitworth remains an encouraging presence in meetings, Noteboom said.
“He’s pretty confident in what we can do,” Noteboom said, “so he’s just saying, ‘It’s your guys, time go do what you do, like you would any other week.’ ”
A day after they placed three practice squad players on the COVID-19/reserve list, the Rams returned to practice. McVay said he was informed of a player’s positive test Tuesday night when he got a call from Reggie Scott, vice president for Sports Medicine and Performance. “I had a funny intuition that here’s our first positive COVID [test], for him to be calling me at the time that he was,” McVay said. “Fortunately, the person that did get it is not having any symptoms right now. You hope that they end up making a safe recovery.” McVay said he would adhere to protocols but was eager for the pandemic to end. “I hope this ends sooner than later, because it’s going to make us bad communicators,” he said. “It’s going to take away the essence of what’s good about human beings if we don’t get this thing figured out soon. It drives me crazy. … I’m talking about this corona … not the protocols.”