THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In Week 7, Rams find themselves in the rare circumstance of being down their top two running backs with Kyren Williams (ankle) out for Sunday's game against the Steelers and Ronnie Rivers (knee) being placed on Injured Reserve.
That leaves rookie Zach Evans and veterasn Royce Freeman, Myles Gaskin and Darrell Henderson Jr. (practice squad) as the next menu up – though exactly how that rotation looks for Sunday is still unclear.
Evans was the first to get carries after Williams and Rivers went down against the Cardinals, posting four carries for 10 yards. When asked directly if Evans will start, Rams head coach Sean McVay said "I wouldn't say that."
"We've got the week to be able to evaluate and I would say all four of those guys are possibilities and we're truly navigating through that," McVay said. "But I was pleased with what Zach did towards the latter part of the game."
Evans' role has varied through the first six weeks of the season. He was inactive for the first four games and only saw action on special teams in the fifth game before seeing those four carries against the Cardinals in the sixth game.
However, his gameday contributions don't paint a complete picture of his efforts and contributions, especially behind the scenes. Rams offensive lineman Rob Havenstein on Monday was complimentary of Evans' work over the past six weeks on the scout team.
"Zach's been working his butt off on there, giving the defense a great look on the scout team," Havenstein said. "He's been recognized by Sean in a couple of meetings of just the way the guy has been running. He even said it before this game happened, 'When your opportunity comes, you're gonna be ready to go just by the way you're working.' So I think it's been shown, and he's a young guy, he's hungry, following Kyren and Ronnie's lead. I think having those leaders in the room is awesome for him. We're excited to see what he's got."
"Going against A-D (defensive tackle Aaron Donald) is crazy," Evans said with a laugh Wednesday, when asked how that time with the scout team has prepared him for what's to come. "Seriously, though, going against our defense is phenomenal. … I go against A-D every day. I go against a safety like Jordan Fuller. Russ Yeast. I got a linebacker like Ernest Jones coming at me. I feel like I'm going against the best of the best already."
Freeman's role has likewise varied – he's played in three of the Rams' first six games so far, but like Evans has seen the majority of that action on special teams – but he brings the most experience as a seventh-year pro with 68 career games played (nine starts), among other valuable traits.
"The experience factor is definitely it," Freeman said, when asked what he brings to the rotation. "Being versatile. I've been elevated to play special teams, so I can be implemented in that way. Running the ball as a bigger back, but also balanced as far as being able to be used in the pass game, protections. Being here for a good amount of time, being familiar with the system."
And then there's the additions of Gaskin and Henderson.
Gaskin, signed off the Vikings' practice squad, had worked with current Rams assistant head coach Jimmy Lake when Lake was the head coach at the University of Washington. Gaskin also worked with Kevin O'Connell and Wes Phillips in Minnesota, both of whom McVay obviously knows from their time together on Los Angeles' coaching staff.
While there's some schematic familiarity from his time with the Vikings and also the Dolphins, Gaskin said he treats every place he's been "like a new book."
"Try and get acclimated to the locker room, get acclimated with these new coaches, and just try and learn as much as I can, soak up as much I can, be a sponge, and just try and get better," Gaskin said. "Just be ready whenever my number is called upon."
Henderson, meanwhile, already has familiarity with the Rams' system, even though they're doing some things different in the run game compared to his first stint with the team, which is what part of what factored into Los Angeles' decision to sign him.
"I'm just here to do whatever they ask me to do and help this team win," Henderson said.
Asked if they will lean into experienced players who have been with the team since training camp, Stafford indicated this week is for evaluating what the best approach is.
"I think we kind of put the game plan in with things in mind, with players in mind, but at the same time let those guys go out and compete for carries," Stafford said. "I leave that kind of stuff up to the coaches. They watch the tape. They figure out who they're most comfortable with going in there and then we'll go and play."