L.A. Rams running back Cam Akers—yes, “L.A. Rams’ Cam Akers”—returned to Rams practice on Thursday. After failing to find a trade partner, and unable to land a replacement running back, head coach Sean McVay is back to Plan Akers. Will Akers return to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9?
Back at practice after a few weeks off, Akers doesn’t have much standing in between him and a significant role in L.A.’s backfield. Only Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, with Ronnie Rivers looming on the practice squad and Kyren Williams working his way back from an injury. Akers most recently played 20 snaps against the Dallas Cowboys on October 9 and days later, was held out of practice for personal reasons.
Those reasons turned out to be a difference of philosophies with McVay and the team immediately announced that Akers was on the trade block. There were no buyers.
When the Rams looked for a starting running back to help their league-worst rushing offense, they couldn’t offer enough to land Christian McCaffrey. Worse yet, he went to the San Francisco 49ers and almost immediately helped beat the Rams with a passing, receiving, and rushing touchdown.
So the depth chart goes back to Henderson-Brown-Akers, with Rivers on the practice squad and Williams in waiting.
Offensive coordinator Liam Coen spoke to the media on Thursday, saying that the team wasn’t sure yet if Akers could play on Sunday.
“Glad to have him back and just see where he’s at,” Coen said. “It’s been a little while obviously since he’s practiced and been in all the installs and those kind of things. Glad to have him back, hopefully we can get him going. If that’s this week and we can get him turned over both physically and mentally to play on Sunday, great. If not, we’ll continue to see how that situation develops and see where it can go moving forward.”
Given that football players miss weeks of practice literally all the time without needing a long time to get back up to speed on the offense—especially players who have been on the team for 2.5 years—it’s a little odd that Coen feels Akers might not be ready yet. Coen did mention that everyone deserves a second chance, which implies that the coaching staff is sticking together and that it was Akers who is the main problem.
But as Blaine Grisak wrote on Thursday, McVay and L.A.’s evaluation of running backs could also be the issue.
Historically speaking, this system has been very running back friendly. This system basically created the “running backs don’t matter” mantra.
However, outside of 2017 and 2018 with Todd Gurley at running back and a historically good offensive line, the offense has struggled to consistently run the ball. In 2018, the Rams recorded an Adjusted Line Yards score of 5.49. This is the highest ever recorded in the DVOA era (since 1996). The next closest was the New Orleans Saints in 2011 with an Adjusted Line Yards Score of 5.25. It will likely be a decade, if not longer, until we see a run-blocking unit like the Rams had in 2018.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams had a top-5 run-blocking unit in both 2017 and 2018.
The Buccaneers have had a mediocre run defense this season, opening up an opportunity for somebody to step up this weekend. Henderson’s best game so far this season is a 10-carry, 47-yard game against the Falcons in Week 2, playing 35 snaps. Rivers had eight carries for 21 yards last week against the 49ers. Akers’ most productive game was a 12-carry, 61-yard game against the Cardinals in Week 3.
But he’s averaged under 3.00 YPC in eight of his last nine games.
The team has few other options, hence giving Akers a “second chance.” But going back to him this soon, with Henderson and Rivers and Brown as options, would be a little bit surprising. So was keeping him for three weeks when openly trying to trade him and then asking him to return.
With how unpredictable the Rams’ season has been, anything seems possible.