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What are Rams options at inside linebacker?

The Rams will be without a starting inside linebacker again — even if he wasn’t a starter last season

NFL: AUG 22 Rams Scrimmage Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sadly it seems that Travin Howard’s 2020 season as a starting inside linebacker has gone the same way as Micah Kiser’s 2019 season as a starting inside linebacker. With the news from Sean McVay on Tuesday that Howard will miss the year with a torn meniscus, the Los Angeles Rams have to further examine what they will do at inside linebacker.

Howard had been taking many known reps with the 1s alongside Kiser and now the Rams final 53-man roster will look a little different.

Last season, the Rams had Cory Littleton as the mainstay with Troy Reeder getting the majority of snaps as the other true inside linebacker, but at only 27-percent of the defense’s total snaps of 2019. He stepped in following a shoulder injury to Bryce Hager, who wasn’t likely to have a high ceiling as a starter anyway, and received positive marks for his first start.

But reports only got worse from there on out and Reeder had clearly fallen on the depth chart with Howard establishing himself as the starter even though he had only gotten 9-percent of the snaps as a rookie in 2019.

Littleton and Hager are now with the Las Vegas Raiders. Kiser has returned from injury and will start alongside Leonard Floyd. Clay Matthews has not retired but has not been employed this year either. Samson Ebukam returns as the weakside linebacker. What can McVay do to replace Howard and to re-set his starting linebackers unit?

Reeder has the most experience of any option on the roster in terms of last season, but Kenny Young did play in 36-percent of the snaps for the Baltimore Ravens defense in 2018. Obviously all that did was get him traded to LA, but neither Reeder or Young would seem to have that strong of an argument over the other.

Both would have potential (they were born two months apart) and obvious downsides.

TST readers have also pointed out options like Natrez Patrick, if he could play inside. Jachai Polite doesn’t seem to have made any noise in camp but also exists.

Also on the roster are rookies Clay Johnston and Christian Rozeboom, who both carry the upside of having no NFL record to date, therefore anything is possible? But also have the downside of being inexperienced and that ... anything is possible. Few reports from camp would suggest that Johnston is near ready for the experience. Rozeboom has seemingly done well for an undrafted free agent but neither linebacker — or Daniel Bituli and Derrick Moncrief — seems assured of a roster spot.

And prior to Howard’s injury maybe neither would have gotten a roster spot. Maybe they still won’t. It could go to an outside free agent or trade acquisition.

RamsWire has already outlined the notable free agents, so I won’t bother treading where they already did a good job of treading. One addition to make would be that it was only a couple of days ago that the Raiders acquired Raekwon McMillan from the Miami Dolphins. McMillan is known for being terrible in coverage and excellent against the run, thereby not being a great fit for modern defenses. But the Raiders did want him for some reason.

After having acquired Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency, Las Vegas had two of their three starters. Nicholas Morrow was set to start alongside them but perhaps McMillan will push him for reps. They also have an undrafted free agent rookie named Javin White who has drawn rave reviews but by my calculations remains on the roster bubble. Even if he makes it, someone — Kyle Emanuel, Kyle Wilber, or even McMillan — would have to go.

I wonder if the Raiders may supply a linebacker to the market and also what other trade options are available. We know that the Rams don’t have a lot of money or spare draft picks but how valuable will this position prove to be to McVay and Brandon Staley?

We may find out as soon as Saturday when final cuts happen.