Not many starting positions are likely to be up for grabs, but the inside linebacker position is one for the Los Angeles Rams.
Going into the offseason, it was a foregone conclusion that ILB Mark Barron was going to be released, and that move ultimately came to fruition. Barron simply couldn’t remain healthy any longer and his salary suggested he was one of the top linebackers in football when in reality, he simply wasn’t. Barron played 570 downs of football in 2018, with SS Marqui Christian often subbing in on third-down passing situations, registering 348 snaps of his own.
Looking forward at the inside linebacker position, the likely heir to the starting spot is 2018 fifth-round pick ILB Micah Kiser. Kiser appeared in 16 games last season, though all of his playing time was spent on special teams units. He only registered four total tackles in 2018, though when given the opportunity to play in the preseason, Kiser was very productive as he accumulated 26 tackles and two pass deflections in four games of action.
Kiser is likely to fill the role that ILB Alec Ogletree once filled in Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense. Kiser is a much stronger defender at the point of attack and in the run game, though their similarities come with the ability to blitz effectively and lack some coverage ability. Kiser totaled 19 sacks in college, often showing his ability to blitz in Virginia’s defense.
With all that being said, Kiser has the athletic traits needed to be effective in coverage, he just needs to get the technical aspects down. Look at this comparison between Kiser and one of the leagues best coverage linebackers in Atlanta Falcons’ Deion Jones:
For a guy who's not really considered a great athlete, Micah Kiser's combine numbers were pretty awesome. Compares (just #'s wise) favourably to one of the leagues best LB's/coverage LB's in Deion Jones.— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) February 27, 2019
Kiser is the first web, Jones is the second. pic.twitter.com/3ie4GtkBjp
If Kiser proves to be a liability in coverage, the Rams can address that by allowing second-round pick S Taylor Rapp onto the field in coverage situations. That might be their plan regardless, though it’s tough to say with certainty.
The other flip of the coin is a potentially unexpected ILB in Clay Matthews. Matthews was signed to be an edge rusher here, though he could essentially do both if that’s what the Rams want him to do. Matthews played inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers in 2014 and 2015, amassing 101 tackles, 30 tackles-for-loss, 17.5 sacks, 41 QB hits, two interceptions, and 12 pass deflections. He was clearly effective in that inside/outside role, and has the potential to do the same in this defense. If this is the route the Rams chose, Matthews would likely play inside on run stopping situations and would kick outside to the edge on pass rushing situations.
My preference would be to start Kiser at inside linebacker and Matthews on the edge next to him, though this is something the Rams will need to decide over the next few months.