THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Since running back Todd Gurley's release in March, many have been wondering what the approach to the Rams' backfield will look like.
For obvious competitive reasons, the details have been scarce. However, this much is known: Rams head coach Sean McVay is planning to deploy a three-running back rotation of Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. in their season- and home-opener against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
"Exactly how those carries are distributed, will be something that will be determined really as the week progresses and as the game unfolds," McVay said during a Monday video conference with reporters. "I think we feel good about all those guys and however the game is going is kind of what we'll end up getting a feel for. (Running Backs) Coach (Thomas) Brown has an excellent feel for that stuff where he'll be able to rotate those guys accordingly."
McVay's breakdown of each running back in that projected rotation was as follows:
On Malcolm Brown, "a guy that's played a lot of games, had a lot of significant contributions over the last couple of years. I think he's been steady and been exactly what you want for a veteran leader and a guy that we know that we can count on in a variety of different ways."
On Akers, "continuing to get better. You know, you forget sometimes he's a young player, but we are going to ask a lot of him. I expect those two to be ready to roll and do a great job for us."
On Henderson, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury sustained in the team's first preseason scrimmage, "we're optimistic that Darrell will be ready to go as well."
When Thomas Brown spoke with reporters on Aug. 28 and was asked about the range of possibilities between a clear-cut number one running back and a running back by committee, he said it was whatever helps Los Angeles win games.
"Every situation is going to be different," Thomas Brown said. "Obviously you would prefer to have a clear-cut guy to kind of take the majority of the reps and having certain guys have a role in that offense, but I think it's all about how those guys continue to develop, what they do well for us offensively and what can help us win football games."
Looking at the bigger picture, McVay said "it's a balance" between having a clear-cut number one running back and a rotation.
McVay said having an established three-down running back has helped the Rams' offense in the past, pointing to what Gurley was able to accomplish in that role. At the same time, he has three young players he's confident in.
The natural progression of the season may offer clarity, according to McVay, but having three different running backs whose skillsets "present a different kind of change of pace and a different dynamic" to defenses and "can help keep people off balance as well" appeals to him.
"It's really our job to maximize the skillsets of all of our players," McVay said. "If someone establishes themselves as the clear-cut front runner, then I think you'll see that reflected in their play."
So, which running back will be on the field for the first series Sunday night?
"I do not (know) yet," McVay said with a smile. "We might go with five wide (receivers) set, no backs, or we might put all three (running) backs on the field and then two other skill guys. You never know."