Rams defensive line coach and run game coordinator Eric Henderson has earned league-wide recognition following the team's Super Bowl LVI-winning playoff run.
Henderson at the NFL Scouting Combine last Friday received the 2021 John Teerlinck Defensive Line Coach of the Year award, as voted by his peers. The award is given out annually at the combine and named after John Teerlinck, who passed away in May 2020 and is widely regarded as one of the top defensive line coaches in league history.
"It means everything, it means everything," Henderson told theRams.com Tuesday. "I'd like to really credit the players that I coach. I'm extremely fortunate to coach a group of guys that believe in what you're asking of them, and that go out, week-in and week-out, and try their best to execute at a high level, and it shows. And then when your peers in terms of the other defensive line coaches around the league and d-coordinators around the league, are able to see what your guys are doing on tape and can vote you as a coach to be a recipient of that award, I think that speaks a lot. It's like the ultimate award to be recognized by the big-time coaches who do a really good job in this league."
Working with assistant defensive line coach Marcus Dixon – now the defensive line coach for the Broncos – Henderson guided a defensive line that helped generate 50 sacks during the regular season, third-most behind the Vikings' 51 and the Steelers' 55. Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald led the way to 12.5 on his way to his eighth Pro Bowl nod and seventh All-Pro selection.
Meanwhile, that defensive front also set the tone for a Los Angeles run defense that allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game during the regular season (103.5).
"It truly starts with the players," Henderson said. "I credit Marcus Dixon for his effort in terms of being able to help and do the things that I've asked him to be able to do, and his presence and what he was able to bring to the group as well. I thought that was awesome. And so we really had a good year. It's been an award that I've been having my eyes on each of the last three seasons since I've been here, and I'm just very excited about that."
In the playoffs, the Rams tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks in their 23-20 win over the Bengals at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13 and had 12 overall during that postseason run.
Henderson said what he was most proud of is the group collectively improving every week throughout the season, with the things emphasized throughout the year revealing themselves throughout the course of the season with how players improved. Greg Gaines' emergence was especially notable, as Gaines finished with a career-high 4.5 sacks by the end of the regular season. Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day also had a promising start to the season with a career-best three sacks plus 38 total tackles in seven games before a re-aggravated pec injury sidelined him until the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, A'Shawn Robinson emerged as a critical piece to a run defense that held opponents to 60.3 yards per game on the ground during the playoffs.
"I just think that we hit a stride, obviously, in the playoffs, when you talk about up front, just dominating in the run game, guys playing with the technique up front, getting on and off blocks," Henderson said. "You just saw the things that you harped on throughout the course of the year come to light, and it actually revealed itself throughout the course of the season. Just seeing guys get better week in and week out is the thing that you got to be excited about as a coach, it's very rewarding. But again, a part of that is on the players, because they took the coaching. And when you see those things happen, you're just excited for them as well, because we all benefit from it."
When it comes to the group's #DAWGWORK mentality, Henderson talks to them about everything starting up front and that "big men lead this team." And as they head into the offseason and prepare for the upcoming 2022 season as defending Super Bowl champions, Henderson will also emphasize continued improvement and helping younger players grow.
"You're always looking to get better, but more importantly, our guys are going to understand things I'm going to be harping on going into this offseason, (which) is that you're going to be a target," Henderson said. "When you have the success that you've had, whether it be winning a Super Bowl, whether it be having the success in the run game, whether it be being able to affect opposing teams' quarterbacks and get after quarterbacks in terms of being ranked amongst the league (leaders) in sacks and rush defense, guys are going to study you, and they're going to study you for the last two years, because when you think about the 2020 season, number one overall defense, and being ranked again in the top-five in rush defense and sacks, team want to see what you're doing. We're always going to have a target on us in terms of what we're doing up front, and so that's the challenge that I accept every year as a coach, because you want to find ways to sporadically get better, and you want to find ways to continually improve the technique and the technique of the younger guys that haven't yet touched the field or haven't played as much. Just continue to develop the depth of our young guys and improve on our technique and our ability to be dominant in the run game, as well as affect the quarterbacks."