At OTAs last month, Sean McVay noted that the Los Angeles Rams are parsing through a roster of inexperienced players and looking for those who are ready to step up. After losing their top six players in defensive snaps in 2022, and nine of the top-12, the Rams need to know which veterans are ready for leadership roles and which rookies are going to be immediate contributors.
“You got a lot of guys that are eager and excited about their opportunities,” McVay said. “I think there was a handful of guys that played last year that could develop some confidence, (and) say, ‘Okay, I’ve been here,’ and then we were able to really reestablish how do we want to operate? What are the ways that we’re teaching these things to make it as digestible as possible for the players? What are the solves? How can you get a little bit ahead of it? And I can’t say enough about the job our coaching staff has done and we know we want to continue to do that every single day from here on out.”
Just the top five lost players alone account for roughly 5,000 snaps and the players who will replace them have almost no experience.
Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will not only need to find out who L.A.’s best players are but he will need to then find out what they do best and fit the scheme to their talents rather than try to fit them into a scheme. Defenses fail far more often when they try to get good players to do something they’re not good at, rather than asking average players to do what they’re best at. The Rams have to find out what these new players are best at so while it may not look exactly like the defense of 2022, that’s probably a good thing.
It just makes it harder to assume that each lost player will have a 1:1 replacement. They won’t. However, somebody needs to eat up those snaps and only Aaron Donald, Ernest Jones could be returning to their same roles.
Today, we’ll review who those somebodies might be.
ILB 2022 - Bobby Wagner, 1,080 snaps
ILB 2023 - Christian Rozeboom
We know that Jones is going to be a starting inside linebacker—he’s the fourth player who the Rams currently have situated in their banner next to Stafford, Kupp, and Donald—but who takes the weakside spot if Jones is the Mike?
Right now that duty might fall on Rozeboom and he’s got very little competition that we know of: Jake Hummel and undrafted free agent rookies DeAndre Square, Ryan Smenda, Kelechi Anyalebechi, and Jaiden Woodbey.
Rozeboom, a 2020 UDFA who didn’t make the Rams roster and eventually made his way back to the team in 2022, playing in the first seven snaps of his career, may end up as the default option next to Jones. But why not Square or Anyalebechi, for example? I have no idea why not—that’s very possible.
CB 2022 - Jalen Ramsey, 1,077 snaps
CB 2023 - Cobie Durant
We will get to Derion Kendrick later, but when asked who could replace Ramsey at the “star” position, Morris mentioned Cobie Durant and Shaun Jolly, while Robert Rochell and UDFA Cameron McCutcheon are comparable in size to Ramsey.
“They definitely lack the size that Jalen had, which is kind of unique,” Morris said. “But those are the things that we look for. Those are things that you look for in just around the league in general. And those guys that we have right now going out to getting those reps, (who) are certainly showing those attributes and being able to do some of those things. Jalen provided sort of a unique ability just with his size, either outside corner or whether you played him inside, I don’t think it really mattered. (He’s) kind of unique in his own right.”
It is Ramsey’s unique combination of size, speed, and football IQ that made him the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, so obviously it is irrational to expect a sixth rounder like Kendrick to match him pound for pound. Despite being an elite high school recruit in 2018 as a receiver, Kendrick didn’t show off good athletic traits at his 2022 pro day, running in the low 4.7 range in the 40-yard dash.
By comparison, Ramsey ran a 4.41 in 2016 and he weighed almost 20 lbs heavier when he did it.
Durant ran a 4.38 and was picked higher than Kendrick, but he weighs 180, which is 10 lbs lighter than Kendrick and nearly 30 lbs lighter than Ramsey, and he played even less as a rookie: 281 snaps to Kendrick’s 483.
The competition at cornerback goes all the way from CB1 to CB5, as nobody is promised anything and the best man will win each respective job regardless of size and speed. In a few months, we could be talking about Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, L.A.’s sixth round rookie, as the top cornerback on the defense. It’s that wide open.
But does Morris have a player who he can utilize like Ramsey? It would not appear so and that must have some impact on how the Rams play defense and scheme against opponents.
SS 2022 - Nick Scott, 984 snaps
SS 2023 - Jordan Fuller
With few other veterans to point towards, the Rams have touted Fuller as a bit of a “cornerstone” this offseason but L.A. would have to go against habits for this to not be his last season with the team. Given the lack of interest in keeping players like John Johnson, Taylor Rapp, and Nick Scott, Fuller would have to have a commanding season at safety to be retained before free agency in 2024. But because Scott and Rapp are gone and since L.A. didn’t pick a safety until Jason Taylor II in the seventh round, Fuller will get a chance to resurrect his career this season.
Fuller posted 60 tackles and three interceptions in 12 games as a rookie, then took over “green dot” duties in 2021, but he was limited to only three games in 2022 due to a hamstring injury. Said Fuller last month:
“In terms of preparation, I feel like I’ve been prepared, just these last few years in the league,” Fuller said. “Been through a bunch of ups, been through some downs, seen a bunch of things. So I feel like I’m just prepared just by being myself, and that’s really just how I’m approaching everything. Wherever I can add value or help somebody, that’s what I want to do. It’s not really a change of a mindset or anything, it’s just being you.”
But just like at cornerback, this competition is only just beginning and won’t be decided based on experience because the Rams don’t have any players at the position who are proven enough to hold back somebody with upside. 2022 sixth round pick Quentin Lake, Taylor, and even undrafted free agents Quindell Johnson, Tanner Ingle, Rashad Torrence II, and third-year pro Richard LeCounte III are going to compete too.
FS 2022 - Taylor Rapp, 977 snaps
FS 2023 - Russ Yeast
I’m choosing Yeast, a 2022 seventh round pick, as a default option but what’s the pecking order really? Why not Taylor or LeCounte? We’ll find out. The two starting safeties could end up being Lake and Fuller, but for now I just have it as Fuller and Yeast. This may be them in OTAs on the first team defense against Stafford:
Take every safety on the roster and add up all of their 2022 snaps and you will get a total of 267 snaps: 113 by Yeast, 91 by Fuller, and 63 by Lake.
OLB 2022 - Leonard Floyd, 933 snaps
OLB 2023 - Byron Young
Byron Young is a gifted athlete and certainly L.A.’s best shot right now to find production off of the edges, but similar to Ramsey at corner, Floyd was drafted in the top-10 picks in 2016 for a reason. While he never played up to the level of a top-10 pick with the Bears or Rams, he did bring strong run defense and occasional pass rush to a position that so far is rolling into training camp with almost no experience.
Young, a third round pick out of Tennessee, looks guaranteed to start in Week 1 unless something goes horribly wrong for him or shockingly well for somebody else. The veteran presence of Floyd, now a member of the Bills, will sort of be replaced by a first-year player who is already 25. Young and Floyd are similar in height and weight, but actually Young is a bit faster and more athletic. Can he play run defense as well?
NT 2022 - Greg Gaines, 732 snaps
NT 2023 - Bobby Brown III
Like virtually all of these positions, there is debate as to who will play defensive tackle next season, but let’s just say it’s Brown. He played in 164 snaps in 2022 after appearing in 22 snaps as a rookie. Brown posted eight tackles, three pressures, after serving a six-game suspension at the start of the year. The 2021 fourth round pick out of Texas A&M will be in the beneficial “next to Aaron Donald slot” if nothing changes between now and Week 1, which helped Gaines accumulate 8.5 sacks and 19 QB hits over the past two seasons.
But it took Gaines a couple of years to acclimate. Is Brown ready for the next step in evolution? Mr. Irrelevant Desjuan Johnson, Jonah Williams, and third round pick Kobie Turner may try to get ahead, just depending on where Donald and the other defensive linemen fit in. It’s a wide open competition.
CB 2022 - Troy Hill, 704 snaps
CB 2023 - Derion Kendrick
Hill had a forgettable return to the Rams in 2022 despite playing in over 700 snaps. L.A. now opens up their entire cornerback competition, including nickel, and if Durant ends up as the “star”, then Kendrick could technically fill the snaps left unoccupied by Hill.
Rams DC Raheem Morris praised CB Derion Kendrick for the urgency Kendrick is bringing as well as his effort and playmaking on and off the ball during OTAs.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) May 31, 2023
“What I want to see from Derion Kendrick is exactly what he’s giving me,” Morris said.
But we’re also going to have to talk about where Rochell fits in, Hodges-Tomlinson, as well as Jolly and UDFAs like Timarcus Davis and Tyon Davis, among others. How the snaps are divided—as well as who keeps his job for the whole season—will be interesting to monitor.
OLB 2022 - Terrell Lewis/Justin Hollins, 640 snaps
OLB 2023 - Michael Hoecht
We have to combine Lewis (332 snaps) and Hollins (308) into one player because L.A. didn’t have a steady option opposite of Floyd. Instead, they had two linebackers who didn’t quite work out and now are off of the team. For now, it seems like Hoecht is stepping in despite the fact that he doesn’t look like very many outside linebackers in the NFL: Few, if any, are over 300 lbs like Hoecht is. The team’s own website lists him as a defensive tackle.
Notes from Thousand Oaks:— Lorenzo J. Reyna (@LJ_Reyna) May 31, 2023
- Tyler Johnson is wearing No. 14 and had his first day.
- Raheem Morris is praising Michael Hoecht & Ernest Jones for growing into a leadership role.
- New OC Mike LaFleur is raving about Stetson Bennett.
Angles under construction @HeavyOnSports
But Hoecht has said that indeed he is training to be an outside linebacker and so that seems to be the plan. He had 4.5 sacks and nine QB hits in limited action in 2022, although he did play in more snaps than either Lewis or Hollins.
DT 2022 - A’Shawn Robinson, 359 snaps
DT 2023 - Kobie Turner
Yeah, this could be Marquise Copeland but honestly is that what anyone wants to hear right now? Why not the third round rookie instead, as Turner did get a bit of praise at OTAs this month.
The effort and pressure put forth by rookie defensive linemen Kobie Turner on one play during 11-on-11 work in Wednesday’s session drew cheers from the defense and especially vocal reactions from his position group.
Same story as everywhere else: The Rams are holding competitions and seeing who steps up and defensive line is no different. Copeland, Brown III, Williams, Turner, Earnest Brown, Larrell Murchison, Johnson, T.J. Carter, and UDFA Taron Vincent all have their chance to be the guy or one of the guys. In any case, the next guy will have a lot less experience than the past guys.
Perhaps that works out for the better.