Today, we continue our "Better, Worse, or Same" series at Turf Show Times, but this week we’ll focus on the defensive side of the football.
What we’re hoping to accomplish, in an always slow July, is determining whether or not the Los Angeles Rams have improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same at each position group. And we’re asking you to vote.
If you missed it last week, we covered the offense. You can check out the quarterback position here. Running backs here. Wide receivers here. Tight ends here. And last, but not certainly not least, the offensive line here.
If you already weighed in with your vote, a quick recap: your votes would indicate that every position group on the Rams’ offense is improved, with only the RB’s and O-Line receiving a "better" vote of less than 80%. Optimism abound!
Let’s get to the good stuff.
(DE) Robert Quinn
(DE) William Hayes
(DE) Eugene Sims
(DE) Quinton Coples
(DE) Matt Longacre
(DE) Morgan Fox
(DT) Aaron Donald
(DT) Michael Brockers
(DT) Ethan Westbrooks
(DT) Dominique Easley
(DT) Cam Thomas
The defensive line has consistently been the strongest position group for the Rams’ over the past few years, and 2016 will be no exception. The only "key" loss would be veteran Chris Long, who’s played with the team since being drafted second overall in 2008. Sadly, health issues kept La Flama Blanca...White Thunder...whatever you want to call him, sidelined for 14 games over the past two years. A great teammate, and fan favorite, the timing was right to move on from Long, who was cut with fellow vets James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook. Those moves freed up $23+M in cap space...$14.25M of which was going to be consumed by Long.
The good news, for the Rams, is that they’ve had very strong depth along their defensive front. While Long and fellow defensive end Robert Quinn were injured, William Hayes and Eugene Sims stepped into starting roles and impressed. In November of last year, head coach Jeff Fisher had this to say about depth, and production from backup players:
Will Hayes stepped up in Chris’s absence and Eugene can play when Rob’s not in. So, we’ve got depth. When we’re moving people around, we’re still getting the production.
But Fisher doesn’t take losing a first round player lightly. And the only way to fill the void was to acquire two more. In March, the Rams signed 26-year old Quinton Coples - who was drafted 16th overall in 2012 - to a two-year deal. In May, they inked a one-year deal with (24-year old) Dominique Easley, who was taken 29th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Rams will also be without the services of Louis Trinca-Pasat, a very promising undrafted free agent from 2015, who suffered an ACL and MCL injury in OTA’s. This will provide for an interesting roster battle this offseason, as guys like Easley, Westbrooks, and Cam Thomas are in line for some for significant playing time.
Better, Worse, or Same?
Better. While some may think the loss of Chris Long will be detrimental to the Rams’ D-Line, William Hayes - who started 11 games in 2015 - will fill in nicely, and with no drop-off in production (as Jeff Fisher noted). That goes for Sims as well, despite the fact that he’ll resume his role as a backup this year.
The additions of Coples and Easley are very intriguing. There’s obvious talent there, but their lack of production in the NFL is what made them affordable free agents in the first place. More good news for the Rams? Playing alongside elite players like Donald and Quinn tends to make their counterparts better. Don’t be surprised if both of these recently acquired free agents feast this fall.
Very little has been said about Donald and Quinn. And it doesn’t need to be. Aaron Donald is one of the best in the business and - assuming Quinn returns to full health - this Rams’ defense is going to create chaos in the backfield of it’s opposition.
And they will need to, given some of the turnover with the seven players lining up behind them.
Related Reads from NFL.com:
Bucky Brooks ranked the Top 10 Fiercest position groups in the NFL for 2016...the Rams D-Line dropped in at No. 9.
Gregg Rosenthal listed the NFL’s Top 12 D-Lines. The Rams can be found all the way at the bottom...No. 1.
Solomon Wilcots thinks Aaron Donald didn’t get the respect he deserved falling outside the Top 10 on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list for 2016.
Over at ESPN:
Donald, Quinn, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson came in at No. 9 on Bill Barnwell’s list of NFL’s Defensive Triplets.
For Your Viewing Pleasure:
Remember that one time when Aaron Donald threw Chance Warmack out of the state of Tennessee? https://t.co/wDi6Z1dGS5— Brandon Bate (@NoPlanB_) May 2, 2016
"Watch Robert Quinn. Trent Williams doesn't have a chance." #STLvsWAS https://t.co/o9JKezh4xf— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) December 7, 2014