There is nothing like having something that you love dearly taken away from you. That kind of pain can only be subdued by the unbridled joy when whatever that love returns to your life. After missing the last two seasons due to foot injuries, Los Angeles Rams linebacker Justin Lawler got to experience that joy Saturday night, playing and ultimately standing out the most among his defensive peers in his first game since Super Bowl 53.
Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris mentioned in the team’s post-game press conference that he knew Lawler was about to ball out after going two-and-a-half years between games.
“I walked by and I was talking to some of the younger guys and I went to walk by Lawler and I said ‘You know what? I’m going to leave him alone.”
“Lawdog is going to be the player of the game,” he added. At least from the Rams perspective, he was right.
After compiling a stat line of five tackles, including one for loss, and two hits on Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in a little over a quarter of action, what can we expect for an encore from the 244th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft in the coming weeks?
The first thing would be that Lawler will be getting more reps with the starters at practice due to Leonard Floyd missing time with an injury. Floyd’s ailment is not expected to be serious, but there’s no reason for McVay to rush the veteran back and Lawler’s four years of experience with the team means that he probably won’t have jitters by playing with the starters for a while.
Rams LB Leonard Floyd walked a bit gingerly out of practice and went to the locker room, accompanied by Reggie Scott. Justin Lawler is getting more reps in his absence.— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) August 16, 2021
McVay is known for protecting his players heading into the season, so it isn’t a stretch to imagine that he sits Floyd, or at least limits his action heading into the joint practices with the Las Vegas Raiders, which begin on Wednesday. If Lawler is able to get some reps against the Raiders starting offensive line, it would be a boon to his already soaring stock.
It is important for Lawler to build off of his Saturday performance with as many reps as possible. As a former seventh round pick, he wasn’t necessarily getting as many reps during his rookie year. Then Lawler was placed on injured reserve in September of 2019, then waived/injured in September of 2020. He only played in 33 defensive snaps during his rookie season and now he’s finally getting that opportunity to be a part of the defense even though he entered training camp as an afterthought in a deep linebacker competition.
The pessimist in me says to take the former Southern Methodist University Mustang’s performance with a grain of salt. Lawler was on cloud nine, playing in his first game in two years in front of fans in So Fi stadium for the first time. He was clearly riding a wave of emotion and momentum was undoubtedly on his side.
The optimist in me says just start him somewhere at linebacker other than in Floyd’s spot and bring certainty to a position that lacks certainty right now.
Realistically, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. His performance puts him back on the radar and he went into the game listed as the first backup to Floyd, which seems solidified now. Justin Hollins has seemed to earn his role as the linebacker opposite of Floyd, while the competition inside could be wide open. Just keep in mind that the reason that Lawler was playing and five other key Rams linebackers were not, was because McVay wanted to protect them.
Had Hollins or Kenny Young or Ogbonnia Okoronkwo played, they too might have been the star of the night.
If Justin Lawler has a showing against the Raiders in any way comparable to what he did against the Chargers though, then it may be time to at least talk about him becoming the next linebacker who McVay benches for the final preseason game — because McVay wants to protect him for the regular season.
How would you grade Justin Lawler’s performance?
This poll is closed
A-Is there really any other option?
B-Let’s not get carried away with preseason.
C-Yup. I just want to be difficult.