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Countdown to Camp: Rams OLBs coach Chris Shula excited to work with "eager" group

Countdown to Camp is a series breaking down the Rams roster by position group heading into training camp. The sixth installment examines the outside linebackers.

There are some familiar faces and a couple new ones too within outside linebackers coach Chris Shula's group, but two constants remain as Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union approaches: A hungry work ethic, and a caliber of talent capable of playing in the NFL.

"It's a really, really eager group, and a group that I think all seven guys have a chance to play in the league," Shula told in a phone interview this week. "It's really exciting."

Considering the opportunity in front of them, and concurrently the task at hand for Shula, it's easy to see why.

Last year's starters, Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr., are both gone, which means Shula will be using training camp to find their replacements. Lots of snaps are up for grabs, but as Shula alluded to, he has several worthy candidates.

Free agency signee Leonard Floyd owns the most overall experience of the group, with four seasons under his belt from his time playing for the Chicago Bears. He also has the benefit of being familiar with new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley's scheme, since Staley was his position coach with the Bears in 2017 and 2018.

Meanwhile, Samson Ebukam enters his fourth season with the club, making him the most experienced of the returnees, followed by second-year pros Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Natrez Patrick and Justin Lawler. Former 2019 third-round pick Jachai Polite joined Los Angeles' practice squad in late September last year, so he also adds some familiarity.

"Guys that are really coachable, want to do it exactly right, want to prove themselves (and) are really excited," Shula said. "We're athletic and prepared, with guys like Samson and Jachai and Obo. We're really athletic, fast and smart, so I'm really excited to work with this group."

Rookie Terrell Lewis, an Alabama product the Rams selected 84th overall in this year's draft, rounds out the outside linebacker room. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled on-field work this spring, which, combined with Phase 1 OTA rules dictating the acclimation period (only strength coaches can be on the field), means training camp will be Shula's first chance to see Lewis in the Rams' defense once Lewis comes off the Reserve/COVID-19 list. However, virtual meetings and Lewis' college film have given Shula a strong enough idea of what to expect initially.

"He's a really, really smart person and football player – it all makes sense to him," Shula said. "He has a great memory, great recall of what he had in college. And then he was in a system in college where he was asked to do a lot of the same things that we're asking him do to here, so I'm expecting the transition to be pretty simple."

Lewis is also a player who can "really do everything... play the run, rush the passer and play in coverage," according to Shula.

"Usually guys that are really smart and self aware like he is, those guys get a lot better," Shula said.

Shula has a good grasp of Lewis and the rest of the outside linebackers' skillsets, but what are some of the traits he'll be looking in whoever eventually holds those starting roles?

Since Staley is bringing in a new scheme, the outside linebackers will be asked to do different things compared to last year, according to Shula. Thus, the answer to the question, or at least the specifics, understandably aren't for public consumption.

However, much like the common traits of the group, there are some core responsibilities that will remain the same.

"At the end of the day, nothing really changes at the outside backer," Shula said. "As an outside linebacker, we want to set the edge in the run game, kill blocks, we want to wreck the game rushing the passer and we want to own the seams and the flats in coverage. So it's pretty simple when you break it down to those three things. The guys that can be assignment sound and do those three things the best are the guys that are gonna be out there."

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