One touch Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator (DC) Raheem Morris has added to the L.A. defense is the STAR position. The role is not new, but over the years, has become an ubiquitous part of defending the proliferation of spread offensive formations and three wide receiver formations.
Since 2017, the Rams two previous DC’s, Wade Phillips and Brandon Staley, used the more-traditional slot corner. Morris took the all-around game of Jalen Ramsey and involved him closer to the line of scrimmage to not only defend passes but help out with run fits. With his size, length, and aggressive tackling, Ramsey fits the contemporary STAR mold.
In its purest form, the STAR position is a hybrid linebacker/defensive back, brought in on passing downs in the form of of nickel or dime packages. (Sometimes the role is called MONEY in dime packages). It’s not a one-size-fits-all position. Different coaches covet different traits. Some want that bigger player who can be a force against the run, while others put a premium on coverage skills. Either way, the position calls for the ability to read/react like a safety, cover like a cornerback, and tackle like a linebacker.
One popular story of its genesis goes back to 1991 with Bill Bellichek and his defensive coordinator Nick Saban. As the story goes, Saban took it with him to Michigan State and when he left, took it to LSU and then on to Alabama. His Spartan DC, Todd Grantham, took it Georgia in 2010. Today, the role is a college football staple, particularly in the SEC and Big 12.
“You can be a really good STAR and not have the long speed to be a good corner. Long speed being that if a guy runs a takeoff on you, you have to run and not get out run when the ball is in the air... So a good tackler, a good blitzer, a good cover guy on a slot player, which is different than a good cover guy on an outside player.”
Morris has a big decision to make now that Ramsey has moved on. While his pool of candidates for the STAR role is deep, there isn’t much on-field experience to be relied on. There has been little reportage about how the roster battle is progressing in OTAs and from what has been aired, it appears likely that position will go to one of the young cornerbacks. It is still early and anything could happen, but the L.A. safeties project to lacking the man coverage skills. The Rams do use predominantly zone coverages, but Ramsey did have a fair share of man reps last year.
The Rams STAR candidates
Speaking of the safeties, Russ Yeast and Jason Taylor have both, at times, played similar roles in college and Richard LeCounte did play the role at Georgia. The others all have their individual strengths, but have the same weakness in common. If they have to turn and run with a fast wide receiver, their long speed could make them vulnerable.
Amongst the corners, DeCobie Durant (5’ 9”, 180), Shaun Jolly (5’ 9”, 180), and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (5’ 8”. 178) are more akin size-wise to pre-Morris slot players, Troy Hill (5’ 10”, 180) and Nickell Robey-Coleman (5’ 8”, 180). Robert Rochell (6’, 193) and Derion Kendrick (6’, 194) are a little closer to Jalen Ramsey (6’ 1”, 209). Vincent Gray combines good size, length and RAS score, but he and the undrafted rookies will have to show out to even make the team.
What does Raheem Morris say?
This early, he’s playing it very close to the vest, but he did mention two candidates in a May 31 video conference and broke down what the Rams are looking for in a STAR.
...when you talk about what it is, it’s really the increased toughness. It’s really the short space quickness and when you put a guy like Cobie (Durant) and you put a young (Shaun) Jolly in there, they definitely have those tools and attributes. They definitely lack the size that Jalen had, which is kind of unique, but those are the things that we look for... And those guys that we have right now going out (and) getting those reps, are certainly showing those attributes and being able to do some of those things.
This early in the process and without film to review or detailed reports from the Rams practice facility, the only thing to do is hide and watch. If Morris’ talking points mean anything, L.A. could be transitioning the STAR role back more of a slot corner role. I’m not questioning the toughness of Durant and Jolly, but they are a bit slight to be jostling with tight ends and/or holding up for a complete season filling gaps on the line of scrimmage.
However it shakes out, the Rams next secondary STAR will have big shoes to fill.