Monday Morning Rambling: How The Los Angeles Rams Dropped The Ball at Linebacker

The Los Angeles Rams kept just three linebackers on the initial 53-man roster. How did they drop the ball at linebacker and more!

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Welcome to the Los Angeles Rams version of the Monday Morning Quarterback. Every Monday throughout the season, I will discuss several Rams topics and whatever is on my mind Rams-related as well as delve into some quick hitters. Hope everyone enjoys it! If you have any recommendations, feel free to tweet me @bxgrisakDTR. Let’s begin!

The Los Angeles Rams offseason has been a strange one. Unlike last offseason when it was pretty obvious that the team was trying to make another run at a Super Bowl, 2020 seemed like the opposite. Was the team rebuilding or just reloading?

Last season the Rams were the 10th youngest team in the NFL. This season, they are third behind just the Dolphins and Jaguars. The two things in common with the Dolphins and Jaguars is that they are two teams who are obviously rebuilding.

It’s no doubt that the Rams needed to get younger. With younger players come cheaper, less expensive contracts. That leads to my main point, being that the Rams completely dropped the ball at linebacker this offseason. Last year the team took a risk by having faith in the guys that they had on the offensive line. It only took until the fifth week of the season for that decision to come back to bite them.

After a 3-1 start, injuries and lack of depth started to pile up. First, it was Joe Noteboom, then Brian Allen, and then Rob Havenstein. By season’s end, the Rams were starting two mid-round rookies and a player that the team traded for mid-season.

The decision to not do anything after losing Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan, proved to be costly as is something that many fans point to as a reason the Rams missed the playoffs for the first time in the Sean McVay era.

The issue is, the Rams are doing the exact same thing at linebacker this season. The team chose not to spend money to keep Littleton, which was understandable given the cap restraints that the team faced. However, they did absolutely nothing to replace him.

The Rams spent a seventh-round pick on Clay Johnston out of Baylor who didn’t make the final roster and signed to the Carolina Panthers practice squad to join his father as well as former Baylor coach Matt Rhule. On top of that, not a single undrafted free agent linebacker made the roster either.

Instead, the team kept a total of three linebackers on the initial roster and were left to address the position one-week before the season by signing a player off another team’s practice squad. That player was Justin Hollins who Staley coached in Denver and primarily has played on the outside.

The linebacker position was a primary need all offseason and the Rams waited until the seventh round to address it in the draft and when that didn’t work, they had to sign someone off another team’s practice squad with one week before the start of the season. One week.

Yes, the Rams suffered an injury to Travin Howard. However, that’s still not the point. They still would have been relying on four unproven players. Much like they relied on unproven players a year ago on the offensive line. The offensive line was a top need last year and linebacker was a top need this year. In both instances, the needs were ignored.

The Rams lost a top player at the position this offseason and every player, draft pick or UDFA, brought in for depth was cut. Every single one.

Several instances during the draft, the Rams passed on talented linebackers that could have an immediate impact on this roster. As potentially great of a pick as the Terrell Lewis pick might be, after signing Leonard Floyd as a pass rusher in free agency, it almost would have been better for the Rams to take a linebacker like Akeem Davis-Gaither, Davion Taylor, Zach Baun, Troy Dye, Malik Harrison, or even Evan Weaver instead of double-dipping at edge.

Think about this: The Rams took Lewis with the 84th overall pick. Jake had Weaver as his 91st overall player in the draft. WhatsOnDraft’s Mark Jarvis had Weaver as his 115th overall player and Lewis at 167 overall. Yes, Weaver did get drafted in the sixth round and got cut from a Cardinals team that was deep at linebacker, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have had an impact on this team with no depth at linebacker.

Heck, you can go earlier than that. Instead of drafting a running back in the second round, the team could have taken Logan Wilson out of Wyoming.

We’ll have to see what the Rams have in store. Hopefully, Micah Kiser who is coming off of an injury plays well and the Rams can roll players like Taylor Rapp down into the box, where he excels, in order to make up for the deficiencies at linebacker. However, if the decision to ignore the position ends up anything like the same decision last year, the Rams are in for a long season.

Now, let’s take a look around the horn.

Malcolm Brown Projected To Start Week 1

Over the weekend Sports Illustrated’s Eric Williams listed Malcolm Brown as his Week 1 starter in the Rams backfield. As you can imagine, the fantasy world and Rams Twitter went nuts. The Rams spent a second-round pick on Cam Akers, how could he not start?

Let’s break it down.

Unlike the last two seasons in which the Rams had a clear bell-cow in Todd Gurley, that’s not the case this year. While Akers could probably carry the load, it seems much more likely that the Rams divide carries out in a committee approach.

The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round last year and he seems to be a player they like. Then you add in Brown to the mix who has been with the Rams since McVay’s arrival. Finally, you get to Akers who the team just drafted.

Henderson didn’t see a lot of action last season outside of garbage time touches, but Brown had a career-high 69 carries last year. It’s not as if Akers was coming into a backfield with no competition.

All three of these players are going to have a role in the offense. Most likely it will be Henderson getting passing down and third-down work, Akers getting a majority of the work between the 20’s, and lastly Brown getting some third-down work and carries in the red zone. It may also be a situation where the Rams ride with the hot hand.

For an outline on how to use their running backs, the Rams must look no further than their own division. Matt Breida had two 100-yard games in the first four weeks of 2019. Tevin Coleman had a 100-yard game in Week 5 to go with three touchdowns. Jeff Wilson had four touchdowns in the first four weeks. Lastly, Mostert had just one 100-yard game in the regular season before going for 220 in the NFC Championship game.

The Rams have three guys who are more than capable of carrying the load, but McVay will be able to keep all three guys fresh by dividing the carries throughout the season. It’s not a bad problem to have. The Rams offense in 2020 could look a lot like it did in the final four weeks of the 2018 season.

Rams Trying To Trade Gerald Everett?

According to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, “the Rams have gotten a few calls inquiring into the possibility of a Gerald Everett trade. But the Rams met them with a resounding “no”. Rodrigue says there are  no current plans to trade the tight end who really showed his potential last year.

This is interesting that the Rams are getting trade calls on Everett. Tyler Higbee emerged at the end of last season and the team went out and drafted Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round in the draft, essentially spelling the end for Everett with the Rams.

Everett has had his moments but hasn’t become the consistent receiving threat that the team expected when they drafted him. In three years, the former second-round pick has 86 career receptions and hasn’t eclipsed 500 yards in a season.

Most likely, Snead and co. just aren’t getting any offers that would make a trade worth it. The team spent a second-round pick on the tight end in 2017 and if they let him go as a free agent, they could get at least a fifth-round compensatory pick.

Unless they were to get a second or third-round pick in return right now, his value on the team is worth more than being somewhere else. The Rams can also hang on to him in case they need to make a trade in-season for a position of need like the team did with Corbett and Kenny Young last season.

Staley Reunites With Denver Linebacker

We’ve talked a lot in this column about the Rams’ failures at linebacker this offseason. On Sunday they claimed Justin Hollins on waivers who was cut from the Denver Broncos. While Hollins may not make an immediate impact, after losing Travin Howard, it was a move that made sense.

Hollins was drafted in the fifth round out of Oregon as an outside linebacker by the Denver Broncos last season. Due to numbers and depth at outside linebacker in Denver, he was cut. With Staley as the linebacker coach last season, he started cross-training to play inside. According to The Athletic’s Rodrigue, Staley caught on to Hollins early in the draft process at Oregon and saw his potential (and potential versatility), and pushed for him to personnel people.

Staley will get a chance to reunite with Hollins and attempt to finish what he started. The Broncos linebacker recorded just one sack last year but played over 250 snaps. His versatility will allow Staley to move him around whether it be inside or outside. The only issue is that with the season now just a week away, there will be less time for continuing to teach that transition than there would have been all offseason.

Hollins does have some potential. He recorded 10 tackles in the East-West Shrine game which earned him the game’s defensive MVP. He’s solid in coverage and works well in space which bodes well for making the transition to an inside linebacker. On the outside, he has a good first step and has a deadly inside move. He’s very good when he attacks with a plan.

Right now this is just a depth move. It’s unlikely that Hollins starts right away. However, with his experience under Staley, this is a move with some potential which is all that you can ask for when it comes to signing players on roster cut day.

Rams Release the 53-Man Roster

The Rams released their initial 53-man roster on Saturday and there were a few surprises. We’ll start at the top.

  • I’m not going to lie, I was kind of surprised when the Rams kept just two quarterbacks after reading that undrafted free agent Bryce Perkins might push John Wolford for the QB2 role in a normal offseason. However, because it’s a weird season, it seemed like having three players at the most important position was important. If Goff tests positive for COVID-19, McVay is going to want somebody that knows his system and is ready to go. Thankfully, Perkins made the practice squad and it’s nice seeing Wolford earn the backup role after not given much of a chance to make the roster a season ago.
  • Speaking of gems like Perkins, the Rams may have a gem in Xavier Jones. The Rams surprised some and cut former sixth-round pick, John Kelly, in favor of the undrafted free agent. Jones was seen making a lot of plays in the team’s two scrimmages and it would have been exciting to see him compete in some preseason games. The Rams also signed Raymond Calais at the last minute who has some kick return experience.
  • Keeping ten offensive linemen seems like a lot. I expected players like Tremayne Anchrum and Coleman Shelton to make the practice squad. While ten guys is a lot, many of them are versatile and can play several positions. However, it still feels like the Rams don’t have a ton of confidence in this group and are going to rotate five guys until the find five guys that work.
  • The Rams kept six defensive linemen and the one surprise might be cutting Marquise Copeland over Eric Banks. However, that won’t be a decision that the team regrets. Banks was a stud at UTSA as he was a member of a defense that set the school record in tackles for loss. He also reunites with Rams coach Eric Henderson.
  • At outside linebacker, Jachai Polite was the final guy to make the cut. Polite won’t start, but he’s someone that will be good to have for depth. This was a player that was a potential first-round pick until his stock plummetted. He was finally drafted by the Jets in the third round before being cut. The Seahawks signed and released him and now he’s been on the Rams for a full year. It’s nice to see that he’s stuck on the roster. With the need at edge, he’ll have a chance to make an impact.
  • Keeping Sam Sloman was surprising at kicker. The Rams were arguably a missed field goal away from the postseason last year. That was with an experienced kicker. In the McVay era, Zuerlein ranked 7th, 11th, and 6th in field goal attempts. In 2017 and 2018, the Rams offense ranked third in field goals per offensive drive. It’s understandable why the Rams didn’t bring back Zuerlein. Needed to save money. What doesn’t make sense is cutting Lirm Hajrullahu, who by all accounts had been winning the competition.

Diamonds on the Practice Squad

After announcing the 53-man roster and making minor changes throughout the weekend, the Rams announced their 15-man practice squad. While some teams were signing Jonathan Cyprien and Josh McCown to their practice squad as teams can add veteran players this season, the Rams kept it young and in house.

Not a single player on the Rams practice squad came from another roster and each was either a UDFA or had spent time with the team. A few guys to keep an eye on:

TE Kendall Blanton –  Blanton earns a spot on the team’s practice squad for a second straight year. With Johnny Mundt and Gerald Everett on the final years of their deals, Blanton will have a good chance to make the 53 next year.

C Cohl Cabral – A lot of fans were excited about Cabral and it’s disappointing he didn’t make the final 53, but he’ll have a chance to develop on the practice squad in the meantime. The Rams kept three centers on the final roster and therefore it didn’t make sense to keep a fourth. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the roster by season’s end.

CB Dont’e Deayon – Deayon has been featured in Hard Knocks which seems to be a curse. However, he’s a talented player on a team with a lot of depth in the secondary. If an injury were to happen. there’s no doubt he gets called up.

LB Natrez Patrick – Patrick makes the practice squad for a second straight year. He’s another player that could have benefitted from a preseason.

QB Bryce Perkins – Perkins is more than a quarterback. He’s an athlete. At some point in his career, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McVay get creative with him on offense. With an actual preseason, he may have taken the backup quarterback role, but for now, the Rams are lucky to keep him on the practice squad.

LB Christian Rozeboom – Rozeboom was someone that I was surprised didn’t make the final roster. It seemed like the Rams really liked him. Thankfully they keep him on the practice squad and he didn’t get signed away.

OL Jamil Demby – In a regular season, Demby probably would have been outright cut. He got an opportunity last year and the Rams ended up having to trade for Austin Corbett. Right now he’s depth that’s familiar with the offense if an emergency occurs.

Looking At The Week Ahead

  • In less than one week, the Los Angeles Rams will finally be playing football. The Rams host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football to wrap up the NFL’s opening Sunday. This will be a game with a lot on the line right out of the gates. The Rams will be opening their new stadium and look to start the season strong against a Cowboys team that is seen as one of the teams to beat in the NFC.
  • The Rams are +3 underdogs after losing 44-21 in Dallas last season. Prior to that game, McVay was 2-0 against the Cowboys which included a big win in the NFC Divisional round the year before.
  • The Cowboys will be without La’el Collins and Sean Lee. The loss of Collins will be a big one as he is one of the premier tackles in the NFL. Expect the Rams to move Aaron Donald around to exploit that.
  • The Rams defensive backs vs. the Cowboys wide receivers will be the premier matchup to watch. Amari Cooper vs. Jalen Ramsey headlines the matchup, but Cee Dee Lamb vs. Troy Hill and Michael Gallup vs. David Long will be fun to watch as well.
  • The Rams linebackers are going to get tested right away. If the Rams are to win this game, they are going to have to slow down Zeke Elliott. In the 2018 playoff game, Elliott had 20 carries for just 47 yards compared to 24 carries for 117 yards in last season’s loss. Elliott wasn’t even the Cowboy’s top rusher last year. That was Tony Pollard who had 12 carries for 131 yards.

Prediction: Cowboys 41, Rams 24

With the pressure of the new stadium and no fans, I believe that will have a huge impact in this game. The Cowboys are one of the most talented rosters in the league and will just have too much firepower for the Rams to keep up with.

 

 

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