It has been well established that the Los Angeles Rams are a Super Bowl contender. Regardless of that, every team in the NFL has its flaws. Every single team in this league has weaknesses and positions of question, and the Rams are no exception. The team is in somewhat of a predicament. The players that they have on the roster currently are ready to compete for a title. Still, some key positions on the team are up for grabs.
Positions such as nose tackle, center, offensive guard, EDGE, and inside linebacker are all available for the taking. This Rams team has a great mix of veteran talent and budding young stars. The battles for these spots could come down to the wire.
The gap left at the nose tackle position could be huge. Former-Ram Ndamukong Suh tore it up in the playoffs. His shoes could be tough to fill. Luckily for the Rams, they have two hungry players ready to step into the limelight: Greg Gaines and Sebastian Joseph-Day.
John Franklin-Myers could be another option at the position, but from what we have heard from Wade Phillips at training camp, these two are fighting for that starting spot.
When the Rams drafted Greg Gaines out of the University of Washington this past draft, I was ecstatic. His movement and finesse from a defender his size were incredible. I couldn’t understand why he dropped as far as he did. Then I did some digging. Gaines’ “stubby” 31-inch arms and average hand usage did not do him any favors in the combine process. Teams were also turned off by Gaines’ ability, or non-ability to stay upright and with the play. He was on the ground too much.
With all of that aside, Gaines’ potential is through the roof. His first step and natural instincts off the ball are outstanding for a 6’1’’ 312-pound nose tackle, and he will be learning under the likes of Wade Phillips, Eric Henderson, Aaron Donald, and Michael Brockers. If Gaines doesn’t end up winning this job, he will be a rotational piece for this team.
Sebastian Joseph-Day had the privilege of sitting on the bench and watching the Rams defensive line work in 2018. This year, Joseph-Day has “earned his role” according to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and things are looking up. The twenty-four-year-old looks the part at the nose tackle spot at 6’4’’ 295 pounds, and he uses his athleticism to his advantage.
At Rutgers, the biggest knock on Joseph-Day was his lack of a pash rush skillset and the inability to get to the quarterback. His first step is not on Gaines’ level, but after a year of watching and learning, Joseph-Day could be much-improved in that regard. He is fast. Joseph-Day’s 4.97 forty time is quick for a potential nose tackle, and his high-motor plus athletic prowess could push him toward the starting spot.
From everything we have heard, Sebastian Joseph-Day is winning the battle for the starting nose tackle spot early on. We could very well be seeing a Joseph-Day/Aaron Donald paring on the Rams defensive line in early September against the Panthers.
The center position is more of a questionable position to media outlets that aren’t that familiar with the Los Angeles Rams. I will list it here anyway. Brian Allen, the second-year pro out of Michigan State is the obvious name out of the group to start at center. Throughout the last few months following the Super Bowl loss, the Rams have pushed Allen to that starting position. During camp, another name has seen some shine in that spot: Jamil Demby. The battle has not yet been won yet, and with Demby coming into the fold now, Brian Allen has some competition for that coveted center spot.
This undersized bowling ball is the offensive version of Aaron Donald in terms of size. Plus, his ability to play above the helmet is outstanding: this man is Brian Allen. Coming out of Michigan State, all Rams fans knew about Brian Allen was that he had the potential to start one day for the Rams, not immediately. Maybe he could have done it, came in and started right away, but unfortunately for him, veteran John Sullivan had the center position locked up. Sitting behind Sully in his farewell year, Allen didn’t see much time, only playing 36 offensive snaps.
This year is quite the opposite for the youngster. Allen is the favorite to start and has been getting priority snaps at that spot all through camp. He hasn’t let anyone down. According to Vinny Bonsignore of The Athletic, Allen and his fellow rookie-starter, Joseph Noteboom have “looked the part” in their time at Rams camp.
Allen plays with great grit and strength, and for his lack of leverage and size, he more than makes up for mental ability and hand usage at the line of scrimmage. Look for Allen to be the favorite to start after pre-season concludes in late-August.
Jamil Demby might be the biggest question mark along the Rams’ offensive line aside from the rookies. Demby was a part of this Rams squad for part of the year before being released. Demby is back now and is getting meaningful reps in training camp. This is the best scenario for him to succeed. Aaron Kromer plus Andrew Whitworth to teach Demby the ropes of the offensive line is the perfect situation for a young lineman-like him.
The Rams have experimented with Demby, much like Joseph Noteboom, playing him at multiple positions along the line. Demby is raw, but he is yet another young piece for Kromer to mend together into a formidable young group. I’d expect him to lose the starting battle if there even is one. Demby can be a great backup is given the right tools.
The Los Angeles Rams have been haunted by the EDGE position in the years following Robert Quinn’s rapid decline. Names like Samson Ebukam, Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Morgan Fox, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Travin Howard and Justin Lawler will all be fighting for edge-rushing time in the rotation. The starters are believed to be Clay Matthews III and Dante Fowler Jr. Two vets who are coming off of questionable years. The position is sure to be one of the Rams weakest, but how effective can these starters really be?
Clay Matthews III
Clay Matthews has had an astounding career. In his prime, Matthews could do anything. The 2019 Los Angeles Rams are not getting that Clay Matthews. Last year, Matthews was given a 65.3 grade via PFF, and he only had 29 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks. This signing was to give the Rams a boost on the field when it comes to above the shoulders play and leadership. He will provide a veteran presence this season.
In this regard, Matthews is similar to Eric Weddle; they are two post-prime players who can still make a definite impact when it comes to leadership and some awesome on-field play. I’d expect Clay Matthews to start opposite from Dante Fowler. Also, expect to see a positive change in EDGE play with him in the rotation.
Dante Fowler Jr.
Dante Fowler Jr. is an enigma when it comes to Los Angeles Rams fans. The former third overall pick has had an up-and-down career, and once he was traded to the Rams, it was more of the same. For example, Fowler had his share of explosive plays (see NFC Championship Game) but he also had his down moments on the field. Fowler had a rough first couple of weeks, but throughout the postseason he flashed why he was picked so high in the 2015 draft.
Coming into the offseason, I thought the Rams would hand Fowler a long extension to sign. They did the opposite: a one-year prove-it deal. These prove-it deals have great upside from the team’s perspective; get a player for one year, working his hardest to get a long-term contract. If the Rams can get the best of Dante Fowler Jr., their EDGE outlook turns out to be a lot better than anyone could have expected.
Cory Littleton has one inside linebacker spot locked up, but who will take the other? Without Mark Barron filling in that role for this upcoming season, we can safely assume this race will be between Micah Kiser and Bryce Hager. These two players are similar in their roles so far into their careers. Kiser is younger than Hager, but both players have been featured heavily on special teams. Hager has seen more regular rotation snaps.
Micah Kiser has been a mini-fan favorite in his one year with the Los Angeles Rams. The former Virginia Cavalier was the sure-tackling stud in the middle for the length of his college term and was picked number 147 in the 2018 draft by the Rams. Kiser spent almost his whole rookie year on the bench and special teams, where he shined.
Coming out of camp last year I, along with other Rams fans across the internet thought Kiser could compete against Littleton and Barron for a starting spot as a rookie. That wasn’t the case. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips didn’t think that Kiser was anywhere near ready to lead the defense or be in the center of the action last year. That brings us to the present. As of training camp 2019, Micah Kiser is listed above Bryce Hager on the unofficial depth chart, as both of them are getting action with the first-team defense.
Look for Kiser to either start or get subbed in as a rotational piece in situations that favor his game. Either way, the former cavalier will get more run in 2019.
Bryce Hager has been a Ram for longer than most people remember. This will the savvy veteran’s fifth NFL season: all with the Rams. Hager went from being the 224th pick in the 2015 draft to being a potential starter in his fifth season. Again, Hager is twenty-seven years of age, with his first opportunity to start coming now: that’s hard work.
Hager could very well be taking a starting spot from Micah Kiser, who is in the same position as a young Hager was: being a special teams ace. He only had TEN total tackles last year which goes to show you how little he got to play in a rotational role. Regardless, Hager isn’t bad. You don’t have the opportunity to start on a Super Bowl-caliber team if you are bad at your job, Hager can win this.
This could be his last chance to start on this team. Especially if Kiser can swing in and impress throughout the preseason. There’s no time like the present. I expect Hager to lose the inside linebacker job to Kiser, but have a featured role on special teams and in some specific rotational sets.
These battles will determine the Rams’ season. Will the young guns in Kiser, Gaines and Brian Allen prove that they were valuable picks? Or will they be liabilities on a team vying for a championship? Throughout preseason some of the burning questions will be answered, and some more questions will be asked.
We are in the biggest state of limbo for every NFL team is the preseason. Players will be playing their hearts out while cuts are coming in left and right. Each week the Rams’ 53 will become more and more clear. The best we can do is wait, and complain. Nonetheless, its time to celebrate: RAMS FOOTBALL IS BACK. No matter who is starting in these spots, this will be an exciting year. I think I can speak for everyone who supports this team in saying: this is the best time of the year. Welcome back to Rams football.
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