There has been one constant in the Los Angeles Rams defense after the first two weeks of the season. They need some support on the interior line. While the triumvirate of Aaron Donald, Kobie Turner, and Jonah Williams looks solid going forward, the weakness appears to lay in the backups and Sean McVay wants players that buy in.
Bobby Brown has played 44.4% of snaps, but after that, Larrell Murchison has logged 14.8% (16 reps), Earnest Brown has 4.63% (5 reps) and Desjuan Johnson has not yet been active. Extrapolated over 15 more games, that’s a lot of ass-whipping on the starters. Yes, the Rams are using a lot of 4-2 fronts this season, playing edge players on the end. But there's not much rotation there either. Michael Hoecht has played 91.67% and Byron Young 87.96%.
It’s still early in the slate and the defense has been better than expected, but the memory of last years offensive line debacle is still fresh in the memory. Anything can happen, injury wise and when the bug bit the 2022 offensive line, it was clear that the backups and practice squad were not up to the task. The Rams were forced into emergency signings of street free agents.
This is not an emergency button to add any of these prospects, rather a call to thought about a problem that is not new, but has been lingering since Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson left in free agency. I’ve tried to offer up a mix of pass rushers and run stoppers, but there are many others and I encourage replies and opinions in the comment section. So what will it be? Trade, poach, or street free agent?
If Cam Akers is on the trade block, let’s pass on the 2024 late round draft pick and try to swap our under-achieving player for someone else’s. These two candidates were healthy scratches in Week 2 and have struggled with injury over their short careers. While the most common narrative is no one will pay anything for Akers, I think, without much puffery, that you could make a good case that Akers could step in and be a starter for both these teams.
Neil Farrell - from Kansas City Chiefs 6’ 4” 330 lbs.
Drafted by the then-Oakland Raiders at #126 of Round 4 in the 2022 NFL Draft and traded to the Kansas this July. Farrell battled a shoulder injury in rookie year and eventually got onto the field in Week 5. He got into nine games, recording 12 tackles, one for loss, and two QB hits on 158 snaps.
SEC tough nose or shade player with strength to hold gap integrity against the run versus one blocker or two. He’s another run stop specialist, fueled by leverage and a tough-guy demeanor. He is strong player with good stack/shed ability. Not a real pass rush threat, his game is best over two gaps.
Neil Farrell’s (DRT) strength & solid agility here allow him to get extension & factor into the play in the gap adjacent to his pic.twitter.com/CLSBbkwQ7r— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 11, 2022
Maurice Hurst - from Cleveland Browns 6’ 1” 292 lbs.
Coming out of college, Hurst was a highly regarded recruit. His 96.5 Pro Football Focus rating for 2017 was its highest ever. He showed versatility by playing on the nose, at tackle, and out at end. A heart ailment, since cleared, dropped him down draft boards. The Raiders grabbed him at #140 of Round 5 in 2018. He’s bounced around through four pro teams since, playing in 44 games with 17 starts while fighting nagging injuries. His snap counts were down last season due a torn bicep and ankle and calf injuries. Over 1351 career pro snaps, Hurst has 82 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 18 QB hits.
More of pass rusher than run-stopper, Hurst is not a brooding hulk and his game is built on speed and low leverage. His is an aggressive disruptor’s game and needs to be cut loose like Aaron Donald, he just just won’t stand up to being a gap holder. He’s not weak or small, just needs the freedom to use his athleticism. He might make a nice rotational pass rush piece.
Certain teams have deep positional units. The San Francisco 49ers have consistently built out their defensive line over the past seasons, Spending draft capital and signing free agents. It is a deep unit. The Seahawks made it a priority to upgrade their interior line for 2023 with free agent signings. If you are going to poach a player and move him directly to the active roster, it should be someone who is lost in the depth chart elsewhere. Two of these candidate, although with different backgrounds, fit that criteria.
Marlon Davidson - from San Francisco 49ers 6’ 3” 303 lbs.
Former Round 2 draft pick, by Atlanta Falcons at #47 in 2020. Davidson’s first two seasons have been marred by knee, ankle and hamstring injuries. Over two years, he’s played in 19 games with 11 starts. He has 29 tackles, one for loss, and one sack over 402 snaps. One of his development problems has been the full-time move inside to defensive tackle, in college he played outside as a defensive end. He still has that versatility when healthy.
Davidson is a get-after-the-QB player. He isn’t a power force inside, but has an arsenal of pass rush moves that he showed off with a strong Senior Bowl week. He need to prove that he can convert those moves into the more confined, compact interior area. He has the good hand work that the Rams like in the down linemen, good get-off, and a hot motor. Although he's got good feet and lateral movement with good strength, fighting off double teams will need to be developed. Davidson is not likely to become an NFL star, but offers up a down the line versatility and some pass rushing juice.
Auburn's Marlon Davidson during #SeniorBowl practice with the hesi/bull to long arm. Finishes with an inside escape via the arm over@marlondavidson7 is projected to go early in the first round of the 2020 #NFLDraft! #PassRush #WarEagle— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) January 22, 2020
Video Credit: @VochLombardi pic.twitter.com/foW5zhlLi7
Matthew Gotel - from Seattle Seahawks 6’ 1” 340 lbs.
The least known of the prospects. Gotel played his college ball at West Florida, a D2 school and was part of their 2019 National Championship win. The Seattle Seahawks signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2022 and he didn’t make the opening roster. He spent the year playing in the XFL. This summer he assigned and released first by the Atlanta Falcons and then returned to the Northwest fold.
Relatively nimble for such a short, squatty guy. He has two go-to moves. One is where he attacks his blocker with a strong punch, gets his arms extended and pushes straight back into the pocket. Two, he looks like he's going to extend, but throws a club move, knocking blockers off balance. It’s more like a big right cross. The question for Gotel and his move to the NFL is whether his arms are long enough to extend and that punch strong enough to rattle NFL grade offensive linemen. He is known as a workout demon.
Street free agent
Robert Cooper - 6’ 2” 335 lbs.
Built like a fire hydrant, blocky with a powerful lower half. His college film shows he’s more of a run-stuffer, but he has really good get off. Although his pass rush moves are all power and he don’t show much polish, that first step could get him through gaps to create quarterback pressure. For his squatty size, he actually has good agility and quickness, in a short space area. He stays aware of where the ball is and flows to it. I like his aggressive play (too aggressive with lot of penalties?) and hot motor.
His arm length and poor hand fighting techniques might create stack/shed problems when NFL grade linemen latch onto him. Adding a player like Cooper is making a statement, “we are mean and aggressive.” When say on the nose in read/contain, he can offer first step penetration, set an anchor to hold his gap(s) and flow to the play. If turned loose, he will fight and bully, looking for any way to get through.
Any reality to these proposals?
Considering that earlier this week, the Rams added a street free agent (Cory Durden) who is similar in size, play style and talent to what is currently on the roster and practice squad, the answer is “not likely.”
For all my complaining about the Rams lack of size and not being big enough inside to stone the run, the first two opponents have attacked and done their rushing damage outside the tackles. While I think it is easier to improve the defense against wide runs than to overcome a big size disadvantage inside, the Rams defensive brain trust may not see it that way. Maybe they think the current players are better than these talented, but flawed prospects offered in the article. Understanding the scheme, working together cohesively, etc.
The starters are playing an extraordinary amount of snaps and it’s only Week 2. Going forward, it is imperative for the Rams to not only find players that can offer rotational snaps, but can prove to win their 1on1 pass rush matchups inside.