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5 things we’ve learned about the Rams defense in training camp so far

The L.A. Rams put on the pads for the first time on Monday

Rams training camp, Irvine
Aaron Donald is facing double and triple teams in camp
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Things heat up for the the Los Angeles Rams on Monday as the players strap on the pads for the first time. After a week getting their feet wet and letting offensive players go unmolested, the young defense gets to roughhouse a bit and show they have the physical nature to compete at the NFL level.

Most of the information coming out of the first week of practice shined a good light on the offense. Circus catches and connecting on deep pass routes make for flashier film than defensive backs knocking down passes. But there were some tasty nuggets from the defensive side and five things Rams fans should have learned after Week 1 of training camp.

Oh and do the Rams put on the pads on Monday?

“Damn right.”

#1) It’s a young defense

L.A. has 43 rostered players on the defensive side. Of those, only two, Aaron Donald and Ahkello Witherspoon have received a second NFL contract. 19 are rookies, 12 are in Year 2, four in Year 3, and six in Year 4.

Head Coach Sean McVay related his early impressions on his young defense, how important it is that they understand the Rams culture, and whether or not it’s difficult to having so many rookies at in a video presser.

“I think it’s the energy level. you’ve got a lot of guys that have youthful energy (and) that have great competitiveness... I do love the energy of this football team... I thought the safeties, you cloud really feel their presence...

I think, in general, you always have to re-establish that ( Rams culture)... there’s that intentional focus and concentration that’s required to know that every single year is a new year. And you really believe it, know it, and have to really commit to it... I really think that’s something that’s very important every single year, but I think it’s especially heightened because of our youth.

Even though you’re a little bit more limited in regards to what you can do in the offseason... it makes it fun... You’ve got a great amount of energy...I think there’s a lot of guys on that side of the football (defensive) that have some natural skills and natural leadership abilities to bring people with them and elevate those around them... And so, I think that’s what you’re looking for.”

#2) Rotations are a thing

Camp battles are raging. Every defensive positional unit has ongoing rivalries that will only intensify not that pads and live hitting are added to the mix. The only players assured of a starting job are defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Ernest Jones. Sean McVay has been hinting about about using rotations going forward, to make best use of his players and force opposing offense to account for the different skillsets. He likens the Rams positional rotations to a baseball pitcher changing up his deliveries to keep the opposition guessing.

Raheem Morris weighed in on the youth of the 2023 defense has led him to change his past style and use the rotations to his advantage.

“... when we had the veterans, it was about finding the different combinations we’re going to play with... (Now) we’re practicing in a manner where you may see a bunch of different first groups, you may see a bunch of different second groups, you may see a switch from a daily concept, and it’s not really based on your performance from the other day. It’s just based on who we need to see... you’re trying to find out who’s going to be those guys that takes those next steps..”

#3) Ahkello Witherspoon could play significant role in secondary...if he’s healthy

The seven-year veteran has missed a lot of time in his career due to injury. In Week 1, Witherspoon injured his thumb bad enough to need surgery and pins for recovery. He been fitted with a cast and is expected to miss little, if any, practice time. The injury likely won’t affect him as bad as it would one the youngsters, he’s been through the wars and the coaches have enough of his past film to know what he brings to a team.

Even with all his experience, a starting gig is not assured. The Rams are his third team and his career play has been up-and-down. He is a wonderful combination of size, speed, and length, but isn’t known for tackling and run support. SIS DataHub has Witherspoon down for 52 missed/broken tackles and only 152 tackles made over his 60 game career.

#4) It’s taking more time to acclimate new players

Practice at training camp has a whole new look and flavor, with all the new coaching staff and young players in 2023. The first-year coaches are bringing in the positional drills they teach and are meshing them with what the Rams have been using in the past. With such a young group of players, the staff is spending more time getting back to basics on technique and scheme fits.

Along with new coordinators Mike LaFluer (offense) and Chase Blackburn (special teams), L.A. brought in seven new positions coaches. Joining the staff are Nick Calley (tight ends), AC Carter (defensive line), Joe Coniglio (outside linebackers), Ron Gould (running backs), Mike Harris (defense), Jimmy Lake (assistant head coach), and Ryan Wendell (offensive line). Also back for a second stint with the Rams is Aubrey Pleasant, defensive backs and pass game coordinator, after spending a year each with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

#5) Aaron Donald will do more moving this season

Raheem Morris is moving Aaron Donald all along the defensive interior positions and is double and triple teaming him in practice. Not only to get him ready for what he will eventually be facing all season, but to also help the offensive line, who are work on sliding/rotating protections to help out on neutralizing opposing defensive stars.

Donald talked about the the changes in offensive line procedures and how he has dealt with them in a July 29 press conference,

“... Sean (McVay) gave me a lot of double and triple teams... it’s what I expect on the season, so I’m getting it right now...the coaches told me they were going to slide (the offensive line protections) every single play, so I was kind of mad because you want to be able to work on different things. But it’s realistic, so I appreciate him doing that for me... to make my job hard at practice and making me study a little longer at night... I appreciate the work and at the end of the day, it isn’t going to do anything but make me better.”

What to look for in Week 2

Time to separate the men from the boys with pads and live hitting. Now we’ll find out which of the young Rams defenders are ready for the spotlight. The first preseason game is less than two weeks away, so the Rams will have to start to settle on packages and rotations by then. The roster lines will start ti delineate. This first week in pads is the chance for players to create their own hype becoming camp darlings and earning a role.