Raheem Morris has a pretty good idea of what he's inheriting at his new job, especially when it comes to personnel.
In defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, he has two players who are not only multi-All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, but in his words on the Rams Revealed podcast, also "potential gold jacket guys" – meaning potential future hall-of-famers.
"You don't mess them up," Morris said during a video conference Thursday, when asked how he intends to use the duo. "Let's let these guys get going."
It's a wise approach to take, as the two will be the cornerstones of a defense that won't be undergoing wholesale changes with Morris overseeing it.
Morris began his coaching career gaining extensive experience in the Tampa-2 defense, a system traditionally employed in a 4-3 (four down linemen, three linebackers) alignment that creates a three-deep look in Cover 2 with the middle linebacker dropping back to cover the middle of the field.
However, Morris is aware of the way defensives are evolving, particularly when it comes to the trends involving the usage of sub-packages. The Rams are going to "look like a 3-4 base team," as in, a three down linemen, four linebackers alignment, but won't strictly be that for their base scheme.
"When you go into your sub-packages, which the league has kind of developed into, you see a lot more four-down fronts," Morris said. "Whether you're talking about odd or even fronts, whether you're talking about bringing different people in to do some different things, you're going to do all those things, you're going to have all those different types of packages. Obviously, you'll talk about who you are and what you are. We're going to look like a three-four base team, something that we tried to look like in Atlanta."
This aligns with Rams general manager Les Snead's end-of-season comments about head coach Sean McVay wanting to "keep the DNA" of Brandon Staley's Vic Fangio-influenced defensive scheme, with Morris adding his own twist. It was a similar approach taken by Staley after he took over for Wade Phillips, who deployed a base 3-4 scheme during his three seasons with the Rams. Staley kept the 3-4, but also deployed a variety of alignments and fronts.
Like his predecessor, Morris will also look to find ways to capitalize on Ramsey and Donald's versatile skillsets.
"Jalen is a great player," Morris said. "He's probably rare. He's unique. He can be a shutdown corner. You can move him inside. He can play at the nickel position. He's smart. You see his toughness oozing all over the tape. You see his competitive nature just all over the tape. You see the exciting plays. You see what he can be and his best version of himself at all times when he's out there in the field."
As for Donald, the goal remains to find ways to scheme on-on-one matchups for him. Among interior defenders with at least 150 rushes against two or more blockers, Donald led the league with 319 per PFF and still posted the highest win rate at 18.2 percent. However, Morris also recognizes the value of that attention commanded by Donald.
"You want to get him aligned up and find the ways to get him one-on-ones, but at the same time, he's done such a great job of getting his teammates one-on-one and setting up the guys around him that you don't want to take away that part of his strength either," Morris said.
Beyond Donald and Ramsey, the rest of the group could look different with safety John Johnson III, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Troy Hill all pending unrestricted free agents. Morris said he's going to give his opinion, but understands those decisions are ultimately Snead and McVay's to make, whether it be for financial or other reasons.
Morris knows those players and others contributed to a No. 1-ranked defense, but the final piece to the vision of his defense involves much loftier goals.
"I wasn't brought here to try to duplicate what they did last year," Morris said. "We were brought here to win and we're brought here to win a championship."