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Darrell Henderson on track to play vs Cowboys

The Rams have been looking forward to a trio of running backs

NFL: AUG 26 Rams Training Camp Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a training camp of opportunity for rookies Cam Akers and Xavier Jones with Darrell Henderson missing two weeks of practice with a hamstring injury, but things are trending in the “optimistic” direction for Henderson and head coach Sean McVay told reporters that “we think he’s going to be able to play.”

That would mean that Akers, Henderson and Malcolm Brown are in line to split snaps in the backfield, though perhaps not evenly. It could also keep Jones and the recently-added Raymond Calais on the inactive list against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday depending on the degree to which they’ve played on special teams; Calais could be on the roster only temporarily.

As reported by LA Daily News, McVay called it a “three-back rotation that you feel really good about” and that’s about what had been expected prior to Henderson’s prolonged absence.

It wasn’t long ago that the Rams unintentionally stumbled into a dangerous running back duo when they signed C.J. Anderson in 2018 to spell and take the place of Todd Gurley. Anderson rushed for 123 and Gurley rushed for 115 in a home wild card win over the Cowboys. They were not so dangerous in either the NFC Championship win or Super Bowl loss but perhaps at least a glimpse was attained.

A glimpse that Les Snead may have tried to go full eyeballs on when he drafted Henderson in the third round despite having agreed to a large contract extension with Gurley but the duo combined to play in 28 games and finished with no 100-yard games. Gurley was not the player he had been in previous seasons and Henderson was rarely involved or productive in the moments when he did get the ball.

However, Henderson deserves the same rookie pass as most players and though that may also signal that Akers isn’t ready, at least it looks as though they’ll be able to help each other from the start of the season. And also the other three running backs.

About the Cowboys defense

As to the matchup that they’re facing this week, it honestly leaves me speechless to try and define how difficult it would be to project the strength of the Dallas run defense in Week 1. I think that would be tough even if there were preseason games but maybe the bar is raised that much higher without the exhibitions and mostly closed-off training camps.

On top of those issues and the general unreliable nature of predictions, the Cowboys changed head coaches (Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy) and defensive coordinators: Rod Marinelli to Mike Nolan, who last served as a defensive coordinator in 2014 with the Atlanta Falcons.

Even if Nolan had a reputation for building a strong run defense, I don’t think it would matter unless he had been able to secure and add the personnel necessary to have it. But his three seasons with the Falcons didn’t go that well and over a long career with stops as a defensive coordinator and head coach, he’s had unsurprisingly mixed results.

With Marinelli as the defensive coordinator last season, they ranked 16th in DVOA, 17th against the pass and 14th against the run. Dallas was 11th in rushing yards allowed and eighth in yards per carry allowed.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins played well and left in free agency. The Cowboys also lost Robert Quinn at defensive end, Byron Jones at cornerback, and linebacker Sean Lee will be out for this game. Their replacements could be improvements in run defense or overall defense for all we know at this point.

Running the ball was not something McVay did a lot of when the Rams played the Cowboys last season. He’d like to be able to have his offense do it as well as Dallas’s did in that game with Ezekiel Elliott and Ton Pollard each rushing for over 115 yards in that game. LA knows what that feels like and with Akers and Henderson they’re hoping to get back to that type of dual threat.

There’s no way to know how those carries will be split this weekend but these situations tend to become clear quickly after they’re tested.