You want something to watch in training camp this year? How about the defense, specifically how much work the St. Louis Rams do in the cover-2 system. Our older readers should know the cover-2 well since that was Lovie Smith's defense of choice during his time as the defensive coordinator here. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis hinted at more cover-2 looks for the Rams this season.
The item comes from the Rams' blog on the team's web site. Here is the tidbit in question:
On Laurinaitis, he says he has lost weight down to about 245 pounds, closer to what he played at in college in an effort to, as he says, be able to "run all day." There are a lot more elements of the Cover 2 defense of past years and Laurinaitis will have to do more deep coverage work. The lost weight is in anticipation of that.
The blurb is not entirely clear, but it certainly does suggest that the Rams will be borrowing some from the cover-2 concepts. That means plenty of coverage duty for the linebacker, the middle linebacker in particular.
Brian Urlacher of the Bears has thrived in their cover-2 system. The key for Laurinaitis will be working in coverage, especially if the team goes with the kind of cover-2 looks that expand the middle linebacker's zone.
According to Pro Football Focus, JL scored a 6.8 in pass coverage last season, that would be the best mark of his career using their metrics. Looking at the charting data from Football Outsiders, JL ranked fourth in stop rate among linebackers and he was targeted 37 times. His stop rate was 69 percent, meaning the rate of passing plays targeted at JL that were not successful (not necessarily incomplete throws). Passing plays in his direction averaged 5.6 yards.
Laurinaitis would be the least of the team's concerns in coverage. The cover-2 splits the deep part of the field into two zones, with the safeties patrolling their areas. Darian Stewart should be fine in such a system, but I wonder more about Quintin Mikell, who did not thrive when asked to take on more of a free safety role last season. Keep an eye on Matt Daniels, the undrafted safety from Duke.
Schematic dogma is not Fisher's thing, so I caution you not to read this as a the Rams doing a switch to a cover-2 base defense. Nevertheless, it does sound like those concepts will be part of the playbook this year.