INGLEWOOD, Calif. – For many Rams players, last Saturday's preseason game against the Chargers represented their first live action in more than a year.
Outside linebacker Justin Lawler had the longest wait of all.
Preseason foot injuries have forced him to miss the each of the last two seasons, which meant that up until Saturday, he had not appeared in a game for the Rams since Super Bowl LVIII in February 2019. So when he let out a roar or celebrated in some fashion after each of his five tackles and two QB hits Saturday night, it carried extra meaning.
"I've been through a long road with the injuries," Lawler said postgame. "My foot breaking three times. (Head coach) Sean (McVay) and (general manager) Les (Snead), gracious enough this offseason to bring me back. Couldn't be more grateful. I mean, just brings me to tears, man. Doing what I love to do after what I've gone through, it's a big deal for me and my family. And it's just good to be out and playing football. I love playing football. And that's that's what I enjoy doing. So grateful."
Starting opposite rookie Chris Garrett at edge, Lawler got off to a fast start. On the eighth play of the game, he teamed up with safety JuJu Hughes to stop Chargers running back Justin Jackson for no gain on 2nd and short. Later in the same series, he pressured quarterback Chase Daniels into an incompletion, a play that contributed to the Chargers settling for a field goal.
At the end of the first quarter, Lawler pressured Daniel again into an incompletion, then made a tackle for a 3-yard loss against running back Joshua Kelley that forced the Chargers to punt.
"My college coach used to say, 'It's a high you can't buy,'" Lawler said, when asked about feeling the momentum build with each play stacking. "That's probably a common phrase, but it's really fun. I mean, it's just, you work a lot, you work hard and you practice for three hours, 17 weeks, with an opportunity to maybe get some more time, so it's just fun. You go out and enjoy it with your teammates. And that's what it's all about – having a team around you, having a family around you, and just going out and playing ball, having fun."
Overall, his pair of QB hits led the Rams' defense, while his five tackles tied with safety J.R. Reed for third-most among Rams defensive players in Saturday's contest.
Afterward, he recalled Snead bringing him into his office to check on him and see how he was doing mentally after his second injury. Lawler also thought of the support shown by his wife, Denver Lawler.
"Thankfully, I've always been stable mentally through my injuries," Lawler said. "God has led me through a lot, and I always have faith in him. My wife, she's an unbelievable support for me. Sorry."
Lawler paused to collect himself.
"When you bring up my wife, that's..." he said, his voice trailing off.
He confirmed his wife was in attendance at Saturday night's game. Playing the way he did with her there was "good" and "special," he said.
"She does a lot," Lawler said. "She takes care of our kids while I'm able to do what I do and train and stuff."
Judging by the outpouring of support on social media, he made his family proud.
"It was one of those deals where he was making his presence felt," McVay said postgame. "I thought there were a couple of holding calls he could have drawn as well, early on in the game. But it was great to have Justin Lawler out there for us. He's had some unfortunate injuries over the last couple of years. You definitely felt his presence. I thought he did a nice job."