THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The perception, at least externally, was that the Rams needed to go outside their roster to find a replacement for outside linebacker Von Miller after Miller signed with the Bills as an unrestricted free agent.
Rams head coach Sean McVay and his staff thought otherwise.
Los Angeles did not address outside linebacker until the seventh round in this year's draft. It also did not sign a big-name free agent pass rusher at that position this offseason. Instead, reminiscent to the approach to the offensive line during the 2020 offseason, L.A. is sticking with its returning options and production to find someone to pair with Leonard Floyd this upcoming season.
"I think a lot of things (go into that confidence)," McVay said earlier this week. "When you go back to prior to acquiring Von last year, you see the production from Justin Hollins. Terrell Lewis played a lot of good football. We all saw really positive strides from Chris Garrett in the preseason. Leonard Floyd has been outstanding for us. And I think also, you acknowledge the fact that Von is such a unique player, but more than anything, it's a confidence in Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, the development (of Chris Garrett)."
Prior to Miller's arrival in early November last season, the Rams generated 25 sacks through their first eight games, notching three or more in all but two contests.
Within that, Hollins got off to a strong start with two sacks in their season-opening win over the Bears, before suffering a pec injury against the Buccaneers in Week 3 that would cause him to miss an extended period of time. Lewis had three consecutive games with a sack across Weeks 4-6. While Garrett only played in one regular season game, he flashed with 1.5 sacks against the Raiders in Week 2 of the preseason.
"As a group, we take pride in knowing that we can attack a quarterback," Garrett told theRams.com after Monday's organized team activity (OTA) practice. "We can hold it down. We know what we can do. We know it's going to be competitive to get that other spot or just even getting on the field."
That group pre-Miller also helped the Rams win seven of their first eight games.
"I think it just gives us the same confidence we kind of had going into the season last year," Lewis told theRams.com after Monday's OTA practice. "We knew last year we had the same group, so it really just was like, 'Ok, they trust that we'll get to the same point with the same mob that we had. We started out with 7-1 with this same group. They ultimately know who they have in their room and feel confident like, 'Ok, we can do well with this group.' Von was a great addition, it only took us to a higher level."
Of course, that's not to minimize the impact Miller had, as Lewis pointed out.
Statistically, Miller contributed five sacks in eight regular season games, then churned out four more in four playoff games as the Rams went on to win Super Bowl LVI over the Bengals. From an intangible standpoint, he taught the returning outside linebackers "little moves here and there" to use when rushing the passer, according to Hollins. At times, Hollins said it felt like they were at Miller's annual pass rush summit.
Now Hollins and the rest of the returnees will look to apply what they learned to reward the Rams' faith in them this season.
"I think we'll be just fine," Hollins said. "I don't think we need to go find anybody new, nothing like that. It would be crazy if I said we did anyway."