THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – At the time, the idea seemed surprising.
The Rams in 2020 were running what has become widely regarded as the modern defensive system in the NFL, and began moving defensive back Jalen Ramsey – primarily known for his play at outside cornerback – around in the secondary. An that experiment had him playing in the slot at nickel defensive back, or what is known as the "star" position on the defense, that season became an expanded role in 2021 and gave Los Angeles' defense a 6-foot-1, 208-pound chess piece whose length and physicality could disrupt opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage.
What Ramsey showed in his three seasons in that role became the premiere example of the impact a bigger defensive back in the slot could have.
"It's hard to even mention Jalen, because like he's the prototype for every position," Morris said. "But when you talk about what it is, it's really the increased toughness. It's really the short space quickness."
Now, the Rams are in search of Ramsey's replacement at star after trading him to the Dolphins in March. But it won't be an exact replacement.
The Rams have two cornerbacks currently on the roster who have similar measurables to Ramsey in third-year pro Robert Rochell (6-2, 195) an undrafted rookie Cameron McCutcheon (6-3, 200). They're two of six cornerbacks on the roster who are at least six feet tall; the other four are below 6-foot.
As the Rams search for the next player to play star, two players Morris mentioned getting looks there are Cobie Durant and Shaun Jolly, both of whom have the necessary tools and attributes to fill that role. However, they also fall into the latter category of Los Angeles cornerbacks. Durant is listed as 5-11, 180 pounds, while Jolly is 5-9, 180.
While Morris recognizes Ramsey's size at star was "unique," Durant and Jolly still possess what they want out of the position.
"They definitely lack the size that Jalen had, which is kind of unique," Morris said. "But those are the things that we look for. Those are things that you look for in just around the league in general. And those guys that we have right now going out to getting those reps, (who) are certainly showing those attributes and being able to do some of those things. Jalen provided sort of a unique ability just with his size, either outside corner or whether you played him inside, I don't think it really mattered. (He's) kind of unique in his own right."
L.A. may be trending toward going back to the more common size for slot cornerbacks, but it's not unfamiliar territory.
In his first stint with the Rams when he coached the cornerbacks, current defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant had 5-8, 180-pound Nickell Robey-Coleman manning the slot. Robey-Coleman logged three interceptions and 20 passes defensed across three seasons with the Rams, plus 122 total tackles.
If Los Angeles has made it work before, there's no reason to think they can do it again – even on the heels of having a one-of-a-kind player at the position.