Countdown to Camp: Defensive line coach Eric Henderson pleased with mix of veterans, upside of young players

Countdown to Camp is a series breaking down the Rams' roster by position group heading into training camp. The second installment examines the defensive line.

Perhaps no group on the Rams roster is deeper or more experienced than the defensive line.

Entering Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union, it's a mix of players that defensive line coach Eric Henderson is eager to get the chance to work with.

"I'm extremely excited about these guys as a whole," Henderson told theRams.com in a phone interview this week. "In general, I think we got a good group of veterans coming in and some young guys that are excited to take the next step in terms of being around me for a year, as well as the incoming and rookies that we got some high expectations for as well."

The defensive line will once again be led this season by Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, who enter their ninth season and seventh season respectively with the franchise. Donald led the team with 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Brockers, who made a career-high 57 total tackles last season and added three sacks and one pass breakup, returns after re-signing with the Rams via a three-year deal.

Younger players like Sebastian Joseph-Day (third season), Morgan Fox (fourth), Greg Gaines (second) and Marquise Copeland (second) round out the returnees.

Joseph-Day turned in 37 total tackles, two sacks and one pass breakup in 16 games last season, his first seeing significant action after being inactive during his rookie 2018 season. After missing the entire 2018 season due to injury, Fox played in all 16 games in 2019 and finished one tackle shy of matching his single-season career-high. In addition to those 18 tackles, his two sacks were just shy of matching his career-best 2.5 sacks.

Meanwhile, Gaines made 13 tackles in 10 games as a rookie last fall and Copeland spent the 2019 season on the practice squad.

"Seabass, with the versatility that he has, to play all the way across the front, coming off a quote-unquote rookie year, being that it was his first time playing, you saw him take the step that you look for from a development standpoint," Henderson said. "And that excites me about him in general. Morgan Fox, not necessarily a young guy, but a guy who's played a lot of ball. And then Greg Gaines coming back, Marquise Copeland, those young guys you're looking forward to taking the next steps, seeing how another year of training camp will help them move forward to be able to compete for those backup roles and things of that nature."

In terms of new additions, the Rams brought in undrafted free agents – Michael Hoecht (Brown), Jonah Williams (Weber State), Eric Banks (Texas-San Antonio) – who will create additional competition and "give us a different look from a physical standpoint," according to Henderson.

The most significant newcomer, though, is defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson. After four seasons with the Detroit Lions, Robinson joined Los Angeles via a two-year deal and brings a motivated mindset.

Once the 6-foot-4 Robinson signed with the Rams, Henderson said he had a conversation with him about his playing weight – listed on his NFL.com profile as 330 pounds – and challenged him to show up to camp at 315 pounds. Robinson did one better, reporting at 314 this past Tuesday.

"So, to me, that first impression is something that I was proud of from him, because it shows he's serious about his craft, coming into a new situation where he's got to compete for a role here," Henderson said. "That role is going to be where he can help us tremendously in the run game as well as being able to rush the passer, because he has some athleticism about him."

What pleases Henderson more than the collection of talent itself, though, is the fact that his players take ownership of "a genuine love and appreciation for one another," something he preaches regularly. They all want each other to get better – there's no agendas.

"When you've got a group like that and they really, truly care about one another, it allows for an environment where we all can get better," Henderson said. "Even myself as a coach, I learn from these guys all the time, so I'm really excited about that."

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