At the NFL Combine earlier this month, general manager Les Snead acknowledged the Rams would have some new positions to fill in their defense. That, of course, comes from L.A. switching to a 3-4 base defense with new coordinator Wade Phillips.
Los Angeles took care of one of those vacant slots by signing outside linebacker Connor Barwin to a one-year deal last week.
On a conference call with local media Wednesday morning, Barwin said his free agency decision came down to the Bengals — which would have put him back in the city where he played collegiately — or the Rams.
"Ultimately, I thought it was a better opportunity for me to be out in L.A., be in a defense that I had success with," Barwin said. "I know Wade's had a ton of success in this league with that defense. And, obviously, [I'll] be a part of an already really, really talented defense."
Phillips coached Barwin as his defensive coordinator in Houston from 2011-2012 with much success. Barwin racked up 11.5 sacks in 2011, which, at that point, was a career high. That's part of why being reunited with Phillips in L.A. is an exciting prospect for the outside linebacker.
"Obviously, Wade did a lot for my career in the two years I was with him in Houston," Barwin said. "He taught me so much about being a pro, enjoying being around the game every single day. And, really, just from a football standpoint, he really kind of elevated my game as a pass rusher."
Barwin has spend much of his professional career listed as an outside linebacker, but he's also been a 4-3 defensive end. That goes back to his time at Cincinnati — he came out of college having played in that defensive system — and includes last year with the Eagles. In their first season under head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Philadelphia went back to a 4-3, which put Barwin back at D-end.
"Last year, moving back to a 4-3 D-end, the bigger adjustment for me was moving to the right side, which, I've traditionally played on the left side," Barwin said. "So back in L.A., I'll be back to an outside linebacker. But then on nickel downs, which is usually about 60 percent of the time in the NFL now, I'll be playing left defensive end, because Robert Quinn likes to play right defensive end."
Heading into his ninth NFL season, Barwin should do well playing in what he feels is already one of the strongest defensive fronts in the league. He mentioned working as the 'Sam' — or strongside — linebacker, which means he'll have to set the edge on run plays, pass rush, and drop into coverage. Given his experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts, Barwin has shown an ability to to excel in each of those situations.
"I'll bring that kind of versatility," Barwin said. "It's already a defensive group that shows up on film the last couple years, that plays really hard. I pride myself on being a guy that plays really hard every single play. So, obviously, I'll fit right in with the group."