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Countdown to Camp 2016 - Defensive Line

Posted Jul 27, 2016

With three days to go before Rams training camp begins, team insider Myles Simmons breaks down Los Angeles' defensive line.

We’re down to three days in our Countdown to Camp series and today we’re taking a look at Los Angeles’ defensive line. If you’ve got a question about our next position group, running backs, be sure to submit it via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Newcomers: Quinton Coples, Dominique Easley, Cam Thomas, Morgan Fox, Ian Seau

The Rams’ defensive line is home to a man quickly emerging as one of the league’s most impactful players in Aaron Donald. While there have been some departures in the club’s D-line rotation, Los Angeles has reloaded its depth in order to continue to have one of the most ferocious lines in the league.

Donald’s 2015 campaign was, in a word, outstanding. He led all defensive tackles with 11.0 sacks — just a half-sack away from tying the Rams’ DT franchise record. He also led the team with 49 QB pressures and 29 QB hits. His first step is arguably faster than anyone else, which allows him to make so many plays behind the line of scrimmage. Expectations for Donald’s third year probably couldn’t be much higher, but he still has a chance to exceed them.

Defensive end Robert Quinn will look to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2015, finishing the season on IR. Despite issues with his hip and back, Quinn recorded 5.0 sacks in just eight games. He mainly did work on the side and in individual drills during OTAs. Los Angeles may continue to bring him along slowly to ensure there are not setbacks before Week 1.

Michael Brockers often does the dirty work along the interior of the line by taking up double teams, freeing up Donald next to him and the linebackers behind him to make plays on the ball. Because of that, much of Brockers’ value as a defensive tackle can’t necessarily be seen in box scores. Still, Brockers has 14.5 career sacks, including 3.0 last year.

At age 31, William Hayes is one of the oldest Rams — one of the few over the age of 30. Los Angeles re-signed the defensive end to a three-year deal in March. While he’s been a key rotational piece in the past, he’s started 21 games over the last two years, including the final 11 in 2015. Hayes was the most productive defensive lineman not named Donald last year with 5.5 sacks, 41 quarterback pressures, and two forced fumbles. He was particularly a force in the Week 16 victory at Seattle, in which he racked up two full and two half-sacks.

Eugene Sims filled in admirably for Quinn in 2015, starting nine games. He totaled 45 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed, and an interception in Week 17 at San Francisco. If Quinn is healthy, Sims slides back into being a key rotational piece for the defensive line, helping keep everyone fresh.

Two years after making the team as an undrafted free agent, Ethan Westbrooks returns for his third season with the Rams. He appeared in 13 games in 2015, registering 33 tackles and 2.0 sacks.

Defensive end Matt Longacre signed on with the Rams’ practice squad following the roster reduction at the end of the preseason, and was promoted to the active roster prior to the Rams’ Nov. 18 contest at Minnesota. He made 28 total tackles with six quarterback pressures and five QB hits.

Los Angeles signed three unrestricted free agents to bolster the depth along the line, two of whom are former first-round picks. In March, the Rams signed defensive end Quinton Coples, who spent his first few seasons with the Jets. New York selected him No. 16 overall in 2012, but cut Coples midway through 2015, and Miami claimed him. He’s registered 16.5 career sacks.

The Patriots cut 2014 first-round pick Dominique Easley in mid-April, and the Rams signed him about a month later. Easley has faced his share of injuries early on in his career, as he finished the season on IR for both his rookie and sophomore campaigns. But if he’s healthy, Easley can be a strong pass rushing force as a defensive tackle.

L.A. brought in defensive tackle Cam Thomas midway through OTAs on June 6. Originally selected by the Chargers in the fifth round in 2010, Thomas spent the past two years with the Steelers. He’s best described as a very large human — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds — and looks like someone who can have success taking up double teams.

As for this year’s class of undrafted free agents, the Rams added Morgan Fox and Ian Seau to compete for roster spots. And while Louis Trinca-Pasat was on the practice squad last year, he was placed on IR during OTAs with a season-ending knee injury.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

For the purposes of this hypothetical, let’s assume Quinn is completely healthy heading into the season.

It’s been a few years since Quinn recorded 19.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles. But because of his position, I’d say he’s the one poised to have the most sacks this year. What I mean by that is he’s someone who has the special skills to beat O-linemen and go after quarterbacks from the outside. Going against left tackles in one-on-one situations like he often does puts him at an advantage.

Now, Donald’s unique skill set makes this a legitimate question. He racked up 11.0 sacks from the inside, and that was largely without Quinn on the outside to garner attention from opposing offenses. Donald is so fast off the line and so good at using his leverage to split double teams that he can easily get in the face of quarterbacks before they’re ready to throw. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has also made a concerted effort to put Donald in more one-on-one pass-rushing situations. So while Quinn is probably best poised, Donald’s talent and work ethic mean there’s definitely a competition there.

As for Hayes, he can get after the passer, too. Last year, he was second on the team with 41 quarterback pressures and 5.5 sacks. The advantage of having a healthy Quinn and Donald would be that teams must focus on preventing those two from wreaking havoc in the backfield. And when that happens, then Hayes should get more opportunities to go one-on-one with offensive linemen. And many times, Hayes can win those matchups to get sacks.

It’s should be fun to watch Williams juggle the many pass rushers on his unit to get the most out of them.

Thanks for your question, Bruce. If you've got a question about the Rams' running backs for tomorrow's penultimate Countdown to Camp, be sure to send it over on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

PREVIOUSLY ON COUNTDOWN TO CAMP

July 20 - Special Teams
July 21 - Linebackers
July 22 - Wide Receivers
July 23 - Cornerbacks
July 24 - Tight Ends 
July 25 - Safeties
July 26 - Offensive Line