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Linebacker: The biggest, perhaps only, concern for 2018 Rams

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  • Linebacker: The biggest, perhaps only, concern for 2018 Rams

    Linebacker: The biggest, perhaps only, concern for 2018 Rams

    5:00 AM PT
    Alden GonzalezESPN Staff Writer

    LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles Rams' offense that was among the NFL's best last season might be even better now, with Brandin Cooks joining the receiver group and Jared Goff potentially taking another step forward as a third-year quarterback. The defensive line, where Ndamukong Suh joins Aaron Donaldand Michael Brockers, looks flat-out scary. And the same can be said for the secondary, now that Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters have been added to a group that includes Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

    The linebackers ... well, that's a different story.

    The Rams upgraded elsewhere on their roster at the expense of this group. The salary-cap space now allocated for Cooks and Talib used to belong to outside linebacker Robert Quinn (traded to the Miami Dolphins) and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (traded to the New York Giants). Two long-time fixtures on the Rams' defense are gone, as is Connor Barwin, an accomplished veteran who started on the left side last year and now remains unsigned as a free agent.

    Heading into 2018, the Rams have what looks like three open spots at linebacker -- spots they will fill internally, either with former backups or recent mid- to late-round draft picks. The only returning starter in this group is inside linebacker Mark Barron, a potential cap casualty when the offseason began.

    Below, we sorted through the candidates to play alongside him.

    The favorites: Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre played well while backing up Barwin and Quinn, respectively, last year. Cory Littleton, mostly an inside linebacker, was a star on special teams, blocking two punts. They all seem to have the inside track on starting roles heading into 2018, but will nonetheless have to earn their keep. Ebukam is an explosive athlete who profiled as a high-upside edge rusher coming out of Eastern Washington, but one who also needed some refinement. The Rams hope Year 2 is a big one for him. Undrafted out of Northwest Missouri State, Longacre's snap count went from 149 to 354 from 2016 to 2017, while switching from defensive end to mostly outside linebacker. He finished with 5.5 sacks in 230 snaps on the right side. Littleton, undrafted out of Washington, started in place of Barron in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans and recorded a sack and an interception in the game that clinched a division title. The incumbents: For outside linebacker, the Rams also have Ejuan Price (a seventh-round pick last year), Garrett Sickels(undrafted in 2017) and Carlos Thompson (undrafted in 2015). Those three have combined for 87 defensive snaps in the NFL. Wade Phillips likes to rotate his outside linebackers, so that total might increase significantly this coming season. That isn't necessarily the case at inside linebacker; at least not with Barron and Ogletree, who typically played every snap when healthy. Bryce Hager, a seventh-round pick in 2015, was Ogletree's backup as the defensive signal-caller last year. Ramik Wilson, a fourth-round pick in 2015, was signed over the offseason after the Kansas City Chiefs declined to tender him a contract as a restricted free agent. Wilson started 17 games from 2015 to 2017, so he has far more experience than anybody else in this group.

    The rookies: The Rams added four players who could join the mix during a 2018 draft that didn't include a single pick in the first two rounds. Two names to pay close attention to here are Micah Kiser out of Virginia and Obo Okoronkwo out of Oklahoma, both of whom were fifth-round selections. Okoronkwo was deemed the Rams' best pick by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. He might not have the physical attributes of an elite edge rusher, but he is considered a sound all-around player with a good motor. Kiser, meanwhile, is coming off a solid collegiate career that saw him compile 33.5 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 12 passes defended and eight forced fumbles in 37 games from 2015 to 2017. He could be a good asset against the run, a major issue for the Rams up the middle last season. The Rams also selected outside linebacker Trevon Young (sixth round) and inside linebacker Travin Howard(seventh).

  • #2
    Wish we could keep Barwin.

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    • #3
      Going with 3, maybe 4 new starters at LB is a concern, and a gamble IMO. It was a deficiency last year, and now becomes a huge question mark. The Rams expressed confidence in their young backups several weeks ago, and I hope that confidence is well founded. At this point, all I can do is trust Phillips, and see how it all pans out with the young guys and rookies.The good news is, the rest of the D is rock solid.

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      • #4
        Travin Howard is listed as a linebacker. He weighs in at 213 lbs., and is listed as being 6' 1". That's decent size for a safety, but not enough lead in his posterior region for a linebacker. In college, he was listed as being 5' 11" and 211 lbs.

        The Big 12's top 10 defensive NFL draft prospects: (According to "Sportsday").

        9. Travin Howard, SS, TCU

        "A linebacker/safety hybrid at TCU, Howard led the Horned Frogs with 108 tackles in 2017, his third straight season with at least 105 tackles. He is an outstanding tackler in pursuit, taking the quickest angle to the ball and displaying serious closing burst. Howard is much better moving forward than in reverse as a cover-man, but his run-defending skills have the attention of pro scouts."

        Despite many of you (Nick and Av among others) predicting from the get go that Mark Barron would not fit in Wade's defense, Mark is still with the team. Maybe kicking the tires on Travin could lead to a more affordable option, or possibly the Rams view him as a SS and special teams demon. We shall find out presently ...
        Last edited by MauiRam; 2 weeks ago.

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        • #5
          problem with the analysis:

          So why would the Rams trade Quinn & Ogletree? If the Rams defense gotten weaker by their departure, why get rid of them in the first place?

          Its just a guess on my part but something was exposed in 2017 the Ram's brain trust wished to correct...certainly the Rams had several options going into the draft. One was to at a minimum keep their draft spot and gone LB shopping; or if there was a difference maker within reach trade up and get one. My thought is neither was the case. Interesting note is the addition of Talib--can't see the Rams scooping him up to create a hole to plug another and still yet Barwin to my knowledge hasn't yet found a home --why is that the case?

          Things do not add up...get a great Free Agency pick up in Talib, let Barwin sit in No-Mans'-Land and trading away Quinn/Ogletree....(?)

          Sorry but moving Ogletree to MLB wasn't the smartest idea but likely one made because there where few if any other choices going into 2017--if it was a successful move he would still be with the Rams and at MLB . Quinn was and is a DE. Yes many of the physical skill sets between a DE & OLB are similar, the position themselves are hugely different.

          Still if one reviews the 2017 season the one glaring weakness the Rams had was stopping the run. That's what Linebackers are for--wasn't always a successful in stopping the run--simply because once a runner gets pass the line, the runner has built up speed and is in space, or in other words a hard target to hit cleanly.

          And now the formula has changed. Donald by himself his a huge asset now the Rams have a Suh (still am suspect that his heart isn't as intensely in the game and am waiting to be proved wrong) and then their is Brockers. In theory each dominates his position and any team looking for any measure of success will have to use double teams and line shifts since most teams don't use a FB. Its easy to guess where the Rams are going with this formula--that is to keep everything inside and mess up opposing QBs....am betting W. Phillips intends to use Talib in press coverage close to the line.

          In an ideal world yes the Rams would have gotten a Mack but my guess is the Rams are banking the battles will be won in the trenches and in the secondary

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          • #6
            The Rams have plenty of young talent at LB and an excellent defensive coaching staff.

            Personally, I'm not even slightly worried about it.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Curly Horns View Post

              The Rams have plenty of young talent at LB and an excellent defensive coaching staff.

              Personally, I'm not even slightly worried about it.

              Good counterpoint Horns. I hope you're right.

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              • #8
                I think you have to be concerned here. For all of the quality moves we've made elsewhere, we're gambling on the performance of some largely unproven guys plus late draft picks. Maybe it will all work out, but I can't say I'm totally ok with it. We don't want to look back next January and say 'this is the unit that kept us from our goal".

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                • #9
                  Guys that fit is what is needed. Kiser appears to be a fit IMO, smarts, tackling ability, willing to fill the hole........not a burner, but he will fill a role. Obywan also appears to be a fit type player. The cost and fit apparently didn't match with Quinn and Ogletree, in their opinion. Front and back of the D looks tough, so proper fit may make this whole thing hum and improve that run defense while maintaining that pass defense.

                  Semper Fi!

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                  • #10
                    With the LB position, I wouldn't go as far as being concerned. Intrigued yes.! Although I do think the Rams defense could potentially miss some of Robert Quinn's pass rushing ability and to be fair, I expect Alec Ogletree and his athleticism to be missed at times next season, but for those two players, I just don't see where the drop-off in talent is going to be that significant. The Rams drafted a player in Micar Kiser, who has a skill set much better suited to playing in this defense, more so than Alec Ogletree anyway. So even with all the kids, I'm expecting the Rams defense to have a better time of it against the run this coming season. So I'm fairly confident and like the direction, the Rams are taking with the LB position. Even more so since I don't have to watch another season of OLB Connor Barwin. We can do a bit better than him, surely.!! So we'll be sweet as........................
                    Last edited by GroundDog39; 2 weeks ago.

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