Countdown to Camp: Linebackers

Posted Jul 22, 2015

In the second installment of Countdown to Camp, team insider Myles Simmons talks the competition at 'Sam' LB, and one player who is approaching a major milestone.

In our second installment of Countdown to Camp, team insider Myles Simmons takes a look at the Rams’ linebacking corps. Be sure to send in your question about tomorrow’s subject, wide receivers, either in the comments or @MylesASimmons on Twitter.


Newcomers: Akeem Ayers, Bryce Hager, Cameron Lynch, Keshaun Malone

Anchored by James Laurinaitis, the Rams return all three of their regular starters from 2014 for their base 4-3 alignment. As defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has repeatedly stated, Laurinaitis acts as an extension of the coach on the field as the middle linebacker, which is a significant factor in the defense’s success. And the middle linebacker is also coming up on a major milestone, as he’ll begin the year only 14 combined tackles behind Merlin Olson’s leading franchise mark of 915.

Alec Ogletree has continued to progress as the Rams’ starting ‘Will’ linebacker, where he’s slated to begin his third season in the league.

There will be competition at the ‘Sam’ linebacker spot, however, between free-agent newcomer Akeem Ayers and the returning Jo-Lonn Dunbar. While Dunbar has spent the past three seasons with St. Louis -- and played under Williams in New Orleans for three seasons prior -- Ayers also has experience with the defensive coordinator, having worked with Williams when he was Tennessee’s senior defensive assistant in 2013.

Ayers spent the first few seasons of his career with the Titans before the club sent him to the Patriots at last year’s trading deadline. The linebacker went on to play a significant pass-rushing role in New England’s championship run.

While Daren Bates is primarily known as a special teams ace, he could potentially make an impact defensively in his third season. As Williams said at OTAs, the Rams have installed 18 personnel packages, which means that there will be plenty of players rotated in to keep everyone fresh.

Korey Toomer, who primarily contributed on special teams in 2014, returns for his fourth NFL season. Also going into his fourth year in the league is Marshall McFadden, who played in a few games but spent most of last year on the Rams’ practice squad.

As for the other newcomers, St. Louis added three rookies through the draft and free agency. The club selected Baylor’s Bryce Hager -- son of former Rams’ linebacker Britt Hager -- in the seventh round, and signed Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Bacone’s Keshaun Malone as undrafted free agents. All three will likely have to make the 53-man roster through contributing on special teams.


In each of our Countdown to Camp posts, we’ll feature one of your Twitter questions on the position group. Today’s Q comes from @koski_justin.

It’s a good question and probably a good problem for the Rams to have. While Ayers was utilized primarily as a pass rusher with New England, he’ll be functioning as a pure strong-side linebacker with St. Louis. That means he’s going to have to drop into coverage and play the run well in addition to rushing the passer. With LBs coach Frank Bush, whom Ayers credits for his significant improvement in his second year, Ayers is primed to make that adjustment well.

What makes it a good problem to have, though, is the fact that safety Mark Barron gives the Rams more options. As mentioned earlier in the post, Williams loves to cycle through personnel groups to keep players fresh. And as more offenses increase the use of formations with three-or-more wide receivers on early downs, it’s important to be able to match up properly.

And so more high-caliber players gives Williams more ways to attack an offense. Some games it may be best to utilize Ayers, and others it may be Barron. In another game, it could be a completely different player. Either way, with Williams in his second year as coordinator, the Rams’ defensive personnel should be in good position to succeed.

Thanks for the question, Justin. Fans, be sure to leave your question about the Rams’ WRs in the comments below, or send it over to @MylesASimmons on Twitter and it could be featured right here in tomorrow’s Countdown to Camp.


Special Teams

The Rams will begin training camp with a 3:30 p.m. practice at Rams Park on Friday, July 31. For more information, visit our official training camp page.