On paper - as 49ers’ wide receiver Pierre Garcon would lovingly refer to it - the Los Angeles Rams are pretty stacked on defense.
Assuming they can iron things out with Aaron Donald, the trio of Michael Brockers, Donald, and Ndamukong Suh could easily be viewed as the best defensive front in football. On the back end, the Rams added seven Pro Bowls to their secondary by acquiring Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters this offseason. Lamarcus Joyner is making strides towards becoming a household name, and then-rookie safety John Johnson III quietly played over two-thirds (66.8%) of the team’s defensive snaps last season — second most of any DB on the roster.
But the Rams hit the reset button for outside pass rushers in 2018 when they shipped Robert Quinn off to Miami and opted not to re-up stopgap OLB Connor Barwin this offseason. Instead, they’ll look to fresh faces to fill those voids in the upcoming year.
Samson Ebukam, who the Rams selected out of Eastern Washington in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft, looks to have secured one of the outside linebacker vacancies. He likely didn’t see the amount of snaps he would’ve preferred (he was in for 32.7% of the team’s defensive plays) sitting behind the aforementioned duo of veteran OLB’s on the depth chart, but showed flashes while getting acclimated to the pros.
Some figure Ebukam will be the Rams’ wild card player on defense in 2018 — their “X-Factor.” Others, who are a little closer to the situation, like QB Jared Goff, also think Ebukam could make strides in his sophomore year. After practice on Wednesday, Goff spoke on whether or not he’s felt the pressure from Samson’s pass rush:
Yeah, he’s good, he’s good. I think he’s going to have a really good year and it’s going to be exciting to watch coming from his rookie year where he didn’t play probably as much as he’d like to and had some flashes. This year I think he’s going to get a lot of snaps and have a good chance to tally up some sacks. It’s going be fun to watch, he’s an exciting player.
Wade Phillips is one of the best in the business, so it goes without saying that he’ll have Ebukam ready to step in, and up, in year two. And being able to rush the passer with the trio of Brockers-Donald-Suh creating havoc up front will only make life easier on any Rams’ pass rusher.
Stay tuned. If the Rams can get pressure from their young OLB’s, “on paper” will quickly be viewed as a harsh reality for opposing offenses in 2018.