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Pre-training camp breakdown of the Rams defensive position units

Who and what to look for with a young and experienced group

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Training Camp
Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris will have his hands full coaching up a young Rams defense
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally here, the Los Angeles Rams training camp starts in three days, July 25 and there are as many storylines as there are changes and questions. The biggest centered around a defense that’s been torn down to the studs and prepped for a rebuild. It’s not a stretch to say the Rams season will go as far as the defensive rebuild allows.

For the duration of camp, I’ll be zeroing in on the Rans defense and trying glean out any and all information I can dig up, without speculation and rumors. No, wait. That’s just not right. The reports will contain plenty of opinion, speculation and rumor. Hopefully in support of information.

Barring any last minute additions, the roster is set at 87 players, three under the league limit. Keep it in the back of your mind that General Manager Les Snead has $9.8 mil in cap space and a full compliment of 2024 draft picks. Just say’n.

Who and what to look out for

Is Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris the right man for the job? He has a long history in the league, but this the first time he’ll have to totally craft a defense. Are the remaining walls load bearing or is the rebuild a red tag waiting to happen? Let’s review The who’s and what’s of the building blocks, position by position.


Who: DeCobie Durant, Robert Rochell, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Derion Kendrick, Akhello Witherspoon, Shaun Jolly, Vincent Gray, Timarcus Davis, Tiyon Davis, Jordan Jones, and Cameron McCutcheon

What: How does L.A. fill the spectre of Jalen Ramsey? The Rams could go two ways here. A long, tall press group with Rochell, Witherspoon, or Gray. Morris is a long-time friend of Dan Quinn and spent five years as his assistant with the Atlanta Falcons. Quinn’s Cover3/press schemes in the ‘Legion of Boom’ years with the Seattle Seahawks made use of big corners. These long-armed players can also condense passing lanes in underneath zones.

A small and mercurial group could be Durant, Hodges-Tomlinson, and Jolly. Read-and-react skills, long speed, short area quickness/burst, and ball-hawking skills would fit the Rams Quarters zone and man/match schemes. A group like this might create more turnovers, but there might be a cost versus bigger wideouts.

Kendrick has the most NFL starts (6) and snaps (483) of this group, but his struggles (43.7 PFF score) start to mount the further he gets away from the line of scrimmage. There can be role for him, just not one where he has to turn and run down field.

Of the UDFAs, none of the college tape hints at a real sleeper who could challenge for the opening roster. Turf Show Times covered the group back in mid-May. There are some good traits amongst the candidates, but the vets and drafted players ahead of them have some real potential. A practice squad berth would be a good start for them all.

Timarcus Davis played much of his college career behind two NFL draftees. Explosive player with stellar short area agility, burst and twitchy lower body. Needs play strength and grooming, but could play special teams right away.

Tiyon Davis played all over the Tulsa Hurricane secondary. On the thin side, he nonetheless plays an aggressive style

McCutcheon has good size and length, and plays more like a safety. Plenty of zone traits, but physically fits the press/man mold. FCS player.

Jones is another small college player with impressive production. Zone guy with good instincts and ball skills. Good speed and burst.


Who: Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast, Jason Taylor, Quentin Lake, Richard LeCounte, Rashad Torrence, Quindell Johnson, and Tanner Ingle

What: This may be the year that DC Morris gets to show his Tampa 2. In his first two seasons he had Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott, a hard-hitting pair who don’t really possess the ball skills to prosper in that system. In replacing those two, the Rams will likely give up some strength against the run for better pass coverage, particularly deep. For fans, It was infuriating to put up with the bend-but-don’t-break and then, too often be burnt by opponents getting behind the defense.

Getting Fuller back will help no matter who plays the opposite side, but with him, injury worries will always be a concern. On the field, he played well and been a steady influence, enough so to have once earned the green dot as defensive captain and play caller. While he’s only an adequate athlete, his overall skillset fits well into a split-safety scheme.

Yeast and Lake both enter Year 2. Lake’s game, although unproven, appears to me as similar to Fuller’s. What he lacks athletically, he can make up for with football IQ. I don’t see him as the enforcer type, but looks to read and react well. Yeast has an aggressive play style and is a good tackler in space. Although on the smaller size, he strikes me as having the versatility to be a moveable part around the defense, deep coverage, in the box vs. the run, blitzing and he can be a special teams demon.

Taylor is a camp crush. I think he projects into the Taylor Rapp role, with better ball/playmaking skills. It should be added that I like Rapp’s game better than most fans. In retrospect, many consider him an underachiever because he was over-projected by draft experts. The Rams were not the only one to think highly of him. Back to Taylor. Great length, good, but not elite athleticism. He’s an aggressive, hard hitter that needs to wrap up better as a pro. But my favorite trait is how he tracks the football and makes plays on it.

LeCounte is a former Round 5 pick. Typical Georgia player, understands the game, tough and ball-hawking. Good zone player who tested poorly for athleticism. Longshot.

L.A. has three interesting UDFAs. Turf Show Times profiled the whole undrafted secondary back in mid-May. Johnson received the Rams highest UDFA guaranteed bonus and has good size, length, and moves smoothly forward, backwards, and laterally. Very versatile with experience as a deep safety, down in the box, and out on the slot. Torrence is a long-armed banger who will need work wrapping up against pro contact balance and lower body strength. Best as a downhill player to start. He didn’t test well in the forty, but does have very good short area quickness. Ingle is a long shot, but plays so much bigger than his 5’ 9” 179 lb. body. Very hard not to like his aggressive style of play, but likely limited to special teams. If you like ferocious, cocky small defenders, he’s it.

Off-ball linebacker

Who: Ernest Jones, Christian Rozeboom, Jake Hummel, Kelechie Anyalabechie, Ryan Smenda, DeAndre Square, and Jaidon Woodbey

What: Jones gets the green dot as captain/play caller and will be tasked with not only getting this young defense into the right spots, but filling the big shoes (and 145 tackles) of departed Bobby Wagner.

Finding his running mate and how much action that role sees will be shaken out in camp. Jones only saw 66% of snaps as the “other” linebacker last year due to the Rams extensive use of nickel and dime formations. Former UDFAs Jake Hummel and Christian Rozeboom are set to compete.

Rozeboom is a known quantity after three years in L.A. He was a tackle machine in college, but been relegated to a special teams role. The Rams have released and re-signed him twice and you have to think that it’s now or never. Eight tackles over 552 snaps does not bode well for his future.

Hummel is a thinking man’s linebacker, more steady than dominating. he’s an aggressive tackler with good form. He has the best athleticism and pass coverage skills of all the Rams linebackers and it makes him the best fit for L.A. ‘s move ‘backer. His only major obstacle was a non-contact hip injury suffered in practice last year that forced him to miss the last 10 games. If he’s healthy, he may ready to flash, but those hip injuries are tricky.

The other four candidates are UDFAs as well and were covered with a little more depth last May. None of them seem to be natural fits for the open role, that of a move ‘backer with coverage skills. They are all from a similar mold, over-achievers with aggressive play styles that lack top-notch athleticism.

Anyalebechie is a FCS two-time All-American who was also twice a finalist for defensive player of the year. He has versatility, playing up and down the box in multiple roles. Smenda’s a thumper who plays like a bull in china shop. Square has the SEC pedigree with good form tackling skill. Woodbey was a college safety and five-star recruit. A horrific knee injury has sapped his speed (4.84 forty), but strangely, he kept his quick feet and short area agility/quickness. He’s the best cover man of the group.


Who: Michael Hoecht, Byron Young, Daniel Hardy, Keir Thomas, Nick Hampton, Ochaun Mathis, and Zach VanValkenburg

What: The Rams realized that they needed to bring more pressure to opposing passers and went out and drafted Young, Hampton, and Mathis, all known for their ability to do just that. Triple-dipping at edge doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris will use a predominant 3-4 defense, he has been trending towards more 4-3 looks. It more likely means that the holdovers just don’t have the juice he’s looking for.

Michael Hoecht is a Swiss Army knife on the front line. He’s a 100%er and now has a full off season learning this new position. What little experience he has is by far the most of the unit. OTA pictures make it look like has leaned out some, but a 290-300 lb. edge is going to run across some problems. Just reading between the lines of the Rams preseason pass conferences, It seems Morris would rather have him as a backup or package player.

Although Keir Thomas is rostered as an edge, he is a traditional defensive end. He can play standing up and hold a gap or set an outside edge, but when he is tasked with moving outside a short area, he lumbers. I like his overall game, but feel he is mis-used at edge.

Everybody’s camp crush last year, Daniel Hardy, now has a full year of pro strength and conditioning. Is it enough to get him on the defense or is he destined to have a special teams and package ceiling. OTA pictures show he’s been getting in his arm work, if his play strength has improved on par, he’ll be gunning for start.

Zach VanValkenburg is one those tough Iowa guys who makes the best of his abilities with effort and football smarts. With the new additions, his future likely lies with another team.

Young is a twitchy athlete and has a starting role within his grasp. It may because of the level of competition, but a starting job just the same. Although in need of grooming, he is SEC tough and has a non-stop motor. TST discussed his possible impact on the young Rams defense on June 20.

Hampton is reminiscent of Hardy, an athletic player with relentless pursuit who comes in on the small side. He does need strength work, but Hardy was able to break through last season against a deeper overall unit

Mathis is raw and needs a lot of technique work, but players with his measurable’s need a long look AND some time to develop. Although odds are on a practice squad berth, if he can show he’s able to handle pro size, speed, and strength, the position is wide open. Back in early-May, I painted a scenario for him not only making the roster, but battling for a starting job.

Defensive interior

Who: Aaron Donald, Bobby Brown, Kobie Turner, Larrell Murchison, Marquise Copeland, Jonah Williams, Earnest Brown, Desjuan Johnson, TJ Carter, and Taron Vincent

What: Questions abound about what defensive fronts will Morris run in 2023. Whether he stays with three down on the interior or goes with four, one thing that stands out is the overall lack of size. Surprisingly, the Rams did not add a hole-plugging gargantuan, either through the draft or free agency. L.A. did draft two interior players, but they were both on the small size. Whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3, there is plenty of room for variation. The could go smaller, quicker, bigger (relatively speaking), aggressive pass rushers, or read and react. Expect much more of a rotation than previously deployed by Morris, the defense did that quite a bit late last season. Injuries may one reason for that, but of all the Rams offensive or defensive units, the front line (even without AD) held their mud as good as any.

A healthy Donald is the great equalizer. His play stabilizes not only the interior, it doesn’t take much of an argument to say his presence makes the biggest single impression on the defense of any player in the NFL.

Will the real Bobby Brown stand up in his third season? As the Rams only lineman over 300 lbs., he should play a big role in 2023. He has the size and length, but simply hasn't been able to earn much time on the field. When in the lineup, he hasn’t shown production, eight tackles and three QB pressures in 164 snaps.

Depending on how the Rams defensive front formation shakes out, one or more of the L.A. unheralded veterans Copeland, Williams, and Earnest Brown could be left out.

Copeland spent his first two years on the practice squad and got in 450 reps and nine starts the past two. He’s made a fair share of tackles but provided very little in the pass rush.

On July 10, I opined that Williams might be in danger of being cut. I always thought he would be a better a prospect at edge, or even more focused, a 4-3 defensive end. The Rams have put some mass on him, he plays hard, and makes tackles inside, but like Copeland, hasn’t added much to the pass rush. He does add value on special teams.

Injuries got Earnest Brown three starts late last season and he looked good at times but quite green in others. Hard to make a case for him being ready to jump over the players ahead of him and get into the rotation. This time around, he might be caught up in a numbers game. How much more time should the Rams invest in his development?

Fans will have to their eyes on Kobie Turner’s progress. How much play time he gets as a rookie could depend on the front formations. In 3-4, there are four players that can play 5T and although he’s very strong, playing NT may be asking a bit much. He does have the versatility to be moved around in a 4-3. Some kind of rotational play would be a fair expectation.

I like Johnson’s college film, but I think he needs a year of seasoning. As a Round 7 pick, he will likely be a good stash for the practice squad.

Carter has bounced between Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints (two stints), Pittsburgh Steelers, Michigan Panthers (USFL) before joining the Rams. Prohibitive long shot.

Vincent is a former five-star and rated as the nation’s #1 recruit, he never lived up to that billing at Ohio State. Part-time starter for Buckeyes. Another long shot.

How do things shake out?

Your guess is as good as mine. The only certainties are Aaron Donald, Ernest Jones, Jordan Fuller. The good news side to that is that there will be some experience at all three levels of the defense. A conclusion is going to have to be built day by day. I’m not sure what schemes will be run, let alone try and project who’s going to start, or even make the team, for that matter. Things are that wide open.

If any fans are going to Rams practices, let us know what you think. Eyes on the prize is the best coverage, if you’re shy, get your notes to one of the staff, we’ll help you get the word out make sure you get credit. Thanks, and enjoy camp.