Heading into the' Rams 2018 offseason program there were several questions surrounding the club's linebackers. With the departure of three starters from the previous season, many outside of the building wondered how Los Angeles' remaining players would fare as they stepped into larger roles.
But as L.A. looks toward training camp in late July, the LBs picture has become clearer. And though there was some uncertainty early on, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips expressed confidence in the group's strength moving forward.
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"We got some good looking players," Phillips said. "We're not set there like we are in some other positions as we are with cornerbacks and safeties, but we got some good players up front. So, we have a lot of strength, we just need some guys to come through and it looks like they have the ability to."
As it stands now, the starting linebackers are shaping up to include Mark Barron and Cory Littleton in the middle and Samson Ebukam along with Matt Longacre on the outside.
Because Barron missed the entirety of the club's offseason program due to injury, much of the attention has centered on Littleton's development as the team's defensive signal caller. Though the spot represents a significant change for the third-year linebacker, he has adjusted well to the increased responsibility.
"I think when you just really look at it from a big picture standpoint on the defensive side of the ball, Cory Littleton playing that MIKE linebacker spot has done a great job," head coach Sean McVay said. "He played our MOE spot when he had to fill in for Mark last year, but he's immediately stepped in, taken good control and command. I think he's done a great job communicating."
Similar to the inside linebacker position, the Rams were also without a presumed starter on the outside. Though McVay is confident that Longacre — who is continuing to rehab from a back injury — will be 100 percent in time for training camp, he was unable to fully participate in OTAs and minicamp. He was present at the facility, but did only rehab work on the side with the trainers during the offseason program.
For this reason, Ebukam has taken on more an increased role on the outside, becoming one of the standout players of the offseason.
"Samson has been a great player for us where you see the bursts. We always talk about that effort with the burst, speed, and finish and he's demonstrated that," McVay said.
Despite the progress, Phillips said the club won't have a true sense of the linebackers' development until the completion of training camp. Once the pads come on and the competition level is increased, he believes the starting lineup and depth of the group will come more into view.
"You have to figure you lost several starters at linebacker, whether it was potential starters with a young guy, or a veteran starter, so we're looking at them now," Phillips said. "I think training camp is going to show which one steps up."
"I think the strong side linebacker needs pads on to be able to play the tight end and dominate the tight end and we'll see if any of those young guys can do that," he continued. "[But] I think we have good possibilities for players to come through for us...We'll see more in training camp of kind of where we are."