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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.


    • #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.


      • #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; -05-05-2018, 11:39 AM.


        • #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 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


          • #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.


            • #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.


              • #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".


                • #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!


                  • #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; -05-08-2018, 04:15 PM.


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                    • ram3057
                      Rams sign free-agent outside linebacker Carlos Thompson
                      by ram3057
                      Gary Klein Contact Reporter

                      April 5, 2017, 3:20 PM

                      The Rams added potential depth to their linebacker corps, signing free agent Carlos Thompson on Wednesday, the team announced.

                      The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Thompson, 25, played as a reserve defensive end in college at Mississippi. He signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and played in two games. He was waived last August.

                      Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams are switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. They begin offseason workouts on Monday.

                      Last year, the Rams signed veteran free agent linemen Quinton Coples and Dominique Easley before the start of the offseason program. Coples was eventually released but Easley became a valuable contributor in rotation with tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.

                      Thompson joins a defensive front that also includes outside linebackers/rush ends Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin, inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron and others such as linebackers Josh Forrest and Cory Littleton, tackle Tyrunn Walker and end/ tackle Ethan Westbrooks.

                      According to, Thompson’s draft profile states his strengths as:

                      Comes off the snap in position to snap his hips and fire under the pads of blockers. Shows a willingness to be physical at point of attack against fullbacks or tight ends when setting the edge as stand­-up linebacker. Was asked to drop into space at times. Reads play­-action quickly. Consistent motor in pursuit of the play.
                      -04-05-2017, 04:38 PM
                    • r8rh8rmike
                      Klein: Cory Littleton is in the middle of Rams' rebuilt defense at linebacker
                      by r8rh8rmike
                      Cory Littleton is in the middle of Rams' rebuilt defense at linebacker

                      By GARY KLEIN
                      JUN 04, 2018 | 3:00 AM

                      The journey began at the outer fringes of the roster and included a delay in the Pacific Northwest.

                      Now Cory Littleton is suddenly right in the middle of the Rams’ defense.

                      Two years ago, after he signed as an undrafted free agent, Littleton sat out nearly all organized team activity workouts because he was required to finish the spring quarter at the University of Washington. He pored over the Rams’ playbook in Seattle, and when he finally joined the team he earned a roster spot as a valuable special teams contributor.

                      Last year during OTAs, Littleton studied and played behind veteran linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, earning a role as a featured back-up and spot starter.

                      The Rams traded Ogletree in March, so Littleton has spent OTAs acclimating to new responsibilities.

                      He is a starting inside linebacker and signal caller for a remade, star-studded defense that is expected to help the Rams move beyond the first round of the playoffs.

                      “Basically,” he said of his role, “the quarterback of the defense.”

                      It’s a big promotion for a first-year starter in a unit that will include star defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.

                      Littleton, 24, acknowledged that he was adjusting to fit the role.

                      “I’m not the most vocal person,” he said, smiling. “I do my best.”

                      The linebacker corps is the biggest question mark for a defense that appears stout along the front and talented and deep in the secondary.

                      The Rams finished 11-5 and made the playoffs last season with a defense that ranked 19th overall, 13th against the pass and 28th against the run. They allowed the 12th-fewest points.

                      General manager Les Snead made several offseason moves to provide defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with players that specifically fit his 3-4 scheme.

                      The makeover began when the Rams traded veteran linebacker/edge rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins for draft picks. It continued when they shipped Ogletree to the New York Giants for picks to clear salary room for the acquisition of Talib. And they let veteran linebacker Connor Barwin leave to test free agency.

                      Barron, a six-year veteran, is attending but not participating in OTA workouts, the same model the Rams utilized last year to make sure he made it to and through the season without physical setbacks.

                      That has provided Phillips, coach Sean McVay and linebackers coach Joe Barry an opportunity to closely assess others.

                      Ramik Wilson, who started 17 games for the Kansas City Chiefs in his first three pro seasons, said he was adjusting quickly to a new system and teammates.

                      -06-05-2018, 08:41 AM
                    • r8rh8rmike
                      Rams Feel Good About Depth at Linebacker
                      by r8rh8rmike
                      Rams Feel Good About Depth at Linebacker

                      Posted 14 hours ago
                      Kristen Lago Rams Writer/Reporter@kristennlago With four new additions acquired through the Draft, the Rams have 12 linebackers currently on the roster.

                      This offseason, the club traded its starting edge defender Robert Quinn to the Dolphins. Starting middle linebacker Alec Ogletree was then traded to the Giants and starting outside linebacker Connor Barwin remains an unsigned free agent. Inside linebacker Mark Barron is the last remaining starter of the group on the team’s roster from 2017 — leaving three slots likely open for the next season.

                      But despite the large holes on defense, coordinator Wade Phillips said he was confident about the club’s depth at the position.

                      “We lost two outside backers and one inside backer who were starters,” Phillips told “So, it’s opening places for guys to step up and play. And I think some of these guys that we got were added to help us. I’m looking forward to that, but we [do] feel good about where we are.”

                      The group Phillips was referring to includes outside linebackers Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Trevon Young, as well as inside linebackers Micah Kiser and Travin Howard.

                      “I think you look at it and you like some of the depth that you’re able to create with some guys that can play on the edge,” head coach Sean McVay said recently. “Then you add interior players that can do some different things and allow us to be a bit more versatile at some of those spots and add some depth.”

                      Kiser has been talked about as one of the rookies with the best chances at making an early impact on the defense. The Virginia product led the ACC in tackles for three consecutive seasons, recording 33.5 tackles for loss, 19.0 sacks, and eight forced fumbles along the way.

                      “Micah has an opportunity to fit in, I mean we lost our MIKE linebacker,” Phillips said. “We lost our leadingtackler, so hopefully he can come in and step into those shoes, which are big shoes for a young guy.”

                      “But he’s got all the talent,” he continued. “I mean hey, those are great things going in and I think it’ll take him a little time, but we feel like he was a really good fit for us.”

                      All four rookies will join a linebacker room that already includes Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre, Cory Littleton, Bryce Hager, Ejuan Price, Garrett Sickels, Carlos Thompson and recently signed Ramik Wilson. Of the group, Ebukam, Longacre, and Littleton have the most game experience, combining for 1,007 snaps in 2017.

                      All together — with some significant contributors from last season and a couple of promising newcomers — the Rams linebacker group includes several viable options for 2018.

                      “We [definitely] have some guys on the team that can come through for us,” Phillips said. “It’s going to play out, but I feel good about it right now. We have some talent.”...
                      -05-10-2018, 09:20 AM
                    • Nick
                      Bonsignore: Ogeltree trade another sign Rams want better fits for Phillips’ defense
                      by Nick
                      Bonsignore: Alec Ogeltree trade another sign Rams want better fits for Wade Phillips’ defense
                      By VINCENT BONSIGNORE | | Daily News
                      March 7, 2018 at 5:39 pm

                      The essence of faith is believing in something that isn’t yet seen.

                      And so the Rams, and their fans for that matter, are taking a mighty leap together.

                      In believing they’ll be better off, like immediately, without the middle linebacker that called their defense and led them in tackles the last two years while developing into a trusted and respected team leader on and off the field.

                      Or finding someone to replace the 8.5 sacks they traded away last week and the five sacks and leadership that might leave in free agent this offseason.

                      And maybe (well, probably) come up with an alternative to the proud, rugged cornerback they seem destined to part ways with via free agency.

                      The Rams defense, as of Wednesday, will likely begin next season with four new starters replacing four valuable, productive and respected teammates. And by the time next week’s free agency period begins, that number could rise to six.

                      On a team that finished 11-5 and a defense that surrendered the 12th-fewest points in the NFL.

                      Leap of faith indeed.

                      With much of it entrusted in 71-year-old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who did an admirable job last year squeezing a bunch of square pegs into round holes while transitioning the Rams from the 4-3 defense they had been playing to his preferred 3-4. And coming up with acceptable results.

                      The Rams fell just outside the top ten in points allowed and were 13th overall against the pass with Alec Ogletree at middle linebacker and Robert Quinn coming off the edge and Trumaine Johnson as their top cornerback. Solid numbers, to be sure.

                      But they were also 28th overall defending the run, allowing an average of more than 122 yards per game, an unacceptable finish that speaks to some ill fits for the 3-4 scheme along the defensive line and at linebacker.

                      Which is why Ogletree, a valued tackler and leader, was dealt on Wednesday to the New York Giants for a pair of 2018 draft picks, and Quinn was traded last week to the Miami Dolphins for a 2018 fourth-round pick.

                      It might also be the reason linebacker Mark Barron gets released next week. And why veteran Connor Barwin might walk as a free agent.

                      All of them were valuable contributors to the Rams defense last year. And each will be appreciated in their new homes next season, for their production and their leadership.

                      But the Rams, and specifically Phillips, think they can do better from a skill-set, body type and schematic perspective. And by already parting ways with Ogletree and Quinn — and by adding Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters on a much more manageable contract that Johnson — the Rams have the financial flexibility...
                      -03-10-2018, 04:59 AM
                    • MauiRam
                      On a star-studded Rams defense, Cory Littleton quietly finds a role
                      by MauiRam
                      THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- If Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry had his way, he would have started coaching Cory Littleton more than two years ago.

                      Barry, a former assistant with the Washington Redskins, implored the Redskins to select Littleton in the 2016 draft.

                      "When we were in Washington we loved him," Barry said. "I was on the table the entire third day of the draft to draft him."

                      But with more pressing needs, the Redskins passed on Littleton, who made several positions moves in four seasons at the University of Washington, which reflected in a draft grade that labeled him as an in-between player without a real spot in the NFL.

                      The other 31 teams passed on Littleton in the draft, too, leaving Littleton, a San Diego native, to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Rams.

                      "He made the decision," Barry said, "And I was like, 'Dang! What a bummer.'"

                      Barry may have lost out on Littleton in the draft and free agency, but united with him in Los Angeles a year later when he accepted a position on coach Sean McVay's staff.
                      Now as the Rams prepare for the 2018 season, Littleton, 24, has gone from an undrafted player to a penciled-in starter at inside linebacker on a defense that includes All-Pros Aaron Donald,

                      Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.

                      "It's been a progression," Littleton said. "Just trying to get better every day."

                      Littleton's ascension up the depth chart was made possible after a series of offseason roster moves.

                      In the first year deploying defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, the Rams ranked 19th in total defense, giving up the 12th-fewest points and generating the fifth-most turnovers, as they clinched the NFC West for the first time since 2003.

                      But they also ranked 28th against the run, allowing an average of 122.4 yards rushing.

                      In an effort to better field the 3-4 and provide some salary-cap flexibility, the Rams traded outside linebacker Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree -- who last season signed a four-year, $42-million extension -- to the New York Giants.

                      Ogletree's departure cleared a path for Littleton to win the starting job.

                      "I'm just competing to try to secure it," Littleton said. "I have a lot of tough competition and I'm just going to do my best to try to keep it."

                      The choice to part ways with Ogletree, a cornerstone of the locker room and the team's leading tackler the last two seasons, was made somewhat easier by the promise Littleton showed last season.

                      "When he played last year, he's the type of guy where you're creating certain packages just to get him on the field when you've got two really good players inside like Alec Ogletree and...
                      -07-09-2018, 09:39 PM