It took much of the NFL world by surprise when the Los Angeles Rams announced, at once, they’d be releasing veterans James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, and Jared Cook. But for the NFL’s, seemingly always, youngest team, getting youth into those positions [and saving a few bucks along the way] is the direction they’ve chosen to go in 2016.
And after paying respects to the now-free agent players, folks turned to speculation. WHO is going to fill those positions for the Rams?
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport casually threw out one name on Saturday afternoon...
Thought after yesterday's #Rams release of Chris Long, others: Expect to learn a lot about DL Ethan Westbrooks, who steps into the spotlight— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 20, 2016
We received no further clarification from Rap Sheet as to whether or not he’d heard this from a source close to the team, or whether it’s sheer speculation on his own. Regardless, it’s out there, and it might not be inaccurate.
"Laugh Now, Cry Later."
That’s what Westbrooks has tattooed on his right cheek, just below his eye. And that tattoo, for many, threw up red flags for scouts/coaches in 2014, when the defensive end out of West Texas A&M was looking to enter the NFL.
Now, about this tattoo. If you didn’t already know, Westbrooks got this tattoo as a form of motivation. Motivation to not settle for a job anywhere other than the NFL...
I was just like I might as well go ahead and get it on the face because if nothing else, it will help motivate me to either be a guy that has a tattoo on his face looking for another job or hopefully I make it in the NFL and don’t have to work too hard to do something else. I don’t feel it’s a bad thing now. I don’t regret it. It speaks for itself.
Sadly, a face tattoo totally took the focus off of what Westbrooks’ was able to accomplish on the football field. Seemingly all of his draft profiles contained the words "character concerns" or "red flags." NFL.com’s draft profile, written by Nolan Nawrocki, literally leads off with the words "Has a daughter." RED FLAG!
Despite it all, Westbrooks played well enough in college to earn 4th round grades for some. At a minimum, his talents were good enough to be taken before Mr. Irrelevant, with the last pick in the 7th round. But, for reasons related to character or otherwise, it didn’t happen. Even after being named the Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine game [where he had two sacks] in 2014, Westbrooks went undrafted.
And it’s been pretty quiet since. Not a peep about off-field issues.
With injuries sustained by Chris Long and Robert Quinn in 2015, Westbrooks - along with fellow DE’s Eugene Sims and William Hayes - saw increased playing time. Sims and Hayes would play roughly 50% of the teams snaps last year. Westbrooks, despite playing in 13 games, was on the field for approximately 24% of the team’s defensive plays.
He tallied a pair of sacks in back-to-back games against the Browns and 49ers. After taking down Josh McCown and Colin Kaepernick, Westbrooks got up, took a pat on the helmet from a teammate, and quietly walked back to the line of scrimmage, getting ready for the next play. There was no Bernie dance, no crazy Chris Long...whatever that was. There was no celebration of any kind.
As for whether or not Westbrooks makes the leap from third on the depth chart to lining up opposite Robert Quinn on first down this fall remains to be seen. But Jeff Fisher, in early November, noted that there wasn’t a lapse in productivity when Westbrooks came into the game to spell William Hayes.
When Ethan (Westbrooks) comes in, there’s no drop off.
It’s too early to tell, but Westbrooks, who won’t turn 26 until mid-November, might be a part of Fisher’s plan towards the never-ending youth movement. Hayes  and Sims  are both free agents, and while one would assume they’d be brought back for depth reasons, there are no guarantees...especially considering the Rams will only have to pay Westbrooks a paltry $606,668 in 2016.
If Rapoport is right, hopefully the focus turns to what kind of football player Ethan Westbrooks is, and can be. Maybe then we can turn our attention to a few of the positive-s Nawrocki saw in him...
Well put together with good size and length. Stands out against Division II competition. Has natural pass-rush ability and shows tenacity hunting QBs. Explosive off the snap -- bursts into blockers. Disruptive penetrating ability. Athletic and flexible. Excellent balance and body control executing pass-rush moves. Spins off blocks. Ranges and covers ground in a hurry when his fire is lit. Stood out vs. better postseason competition.