Countdown to Camp is a series breaking down the Rams' roster by position group heading into training camp. The first installment examines the running backs.
Although Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown hasn't had a chance to work with his group on the field yet – the COVID-19 pandemic forced a virtual offseason program and prevented players and coaches from gathering in-person this spring – 2019 film and individual meetings have helped him form solid first impressions of the the talent at his disposal entering Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union.
For Brown, what stands out and excites him the most is the versatility of his unit.
"We have a core group of guys who are very talented but also have different skill sets, which, to me, helps from a game planning standpoint in being able to build around those guys' skillsets, being able attack defenses week in and week out," Brown told theRams.com in a phone interview this week.
Sixth-year veteran Malcolm Brown is the most experienced of the group and coming off a season with career-highs in carries (69), rushing yards (255) and rushing touchdowns (5). The former University of Texas standout originally joined the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has spent his entire career with the club so far.
"I just love his competitive nature, his mindset, and also his ability to be able to lead the group," Brown said. "Just from his experience but also because of the way he's made up from an alpha-male type mentality."
Meanwhile, Darrell Henderson as a rookie flashed the ability to contribute in multiple ways out of the backfield, rushing 39 times for 147 yards and catching four passes for 37 yards in 13 games last season.
"Very explosive back that has some good short-area quickness, does have some power in the knees too, but also can be a weapon to maybe utilize out of the backfield from a receiving-game standpoint, when it comes to beating guys on-on-one and catching the football," Brown said.
Rookie Cam Akers also offers a similar skillset. In three seasons at Florida State, the Rams' highest 2020 draft pick carried the ball 586 times for 2,874 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, adding 69 receptions for 486 receiving yards and seven scores in the passing game.
"Really excited about (him), know a little bit about from a history standpoint, just from trying to recruit the guy when I was (coaching) in college," Brown said. "But a guy that can potentially grow into an every-down back, that can I do it all I think. Can play between the tackles, can play in space. Obviously the pass protection aspect of it is going to be the biggest part for any running back, especially young backs, coming into this league with the different number of looks and pressures you'll have a chance to go against week in and week out."
"A guy that I've continued to grow some confidence in, just meeting with from a virtual standpoint, of him understanding more about the offense and having the chance to come in and compete," Brown said.
For additional competition, the running back room added an undrafted free agent this offseason in SMU's Xavier Jones. Brown's task in his first season with Los Angeles will be to figure out the most effective rotation or combination of players to replace former starter Todd Gurley, whose March release vacated 223 of the backfield's 401 total carries from last season.
Pass protection and ball security will be two key attributes evaluated by Brown as he navigates giving different players opportunities during camp, as well as a couple others.
"Guys that can be able to create for themselves is kind of the one stamp I always put on them, about being able to take an average play and make something out of it, meaning being able to get more than what the players block for," Brown said. "A guy that's going to be consistent every single day. It's easy for guys to come in Day 1, Week 1, and be excited and perform well, but can you be consistent over the duration of camp?"
Brown said he will be divvying up "a bunch" of reps throughout camp to gage what players can handle. Ultimately, though, it comes down to a player's resume and what they put on film.
"I'm big on competition, so I'm excited to see these guys get after it and the mentality they bring every single day," Brown said. "We'll see how it shakes out after camp."