Heading into this year’s NFL Draft, linebacker was a major position of need for the Rams.
This offseason, the club traded its starting edge defender Robert Quinn to the Dolphins. Starting middle linebacker Alec Ogletree was then traded to the Giants and starting outside linebacker Connor Barwin remains an unsigned free agent. Inside linebacker Mark Barron is the last remaining starter of the group on the team’s roster from 2017 — leaving three slots likely open for the next season.
But despite the large holes on defense, coordinator Wade Phillips said he was confident about the club’s depth at the position.
“We lost two outside backers and one inside backer who were starters,” Phillips told therams.com. “So, it’s opening places for guys to step up and play. And I think some of these guys that we got were added to help us. I’m looking forward to that, but we [do] feel good about where we are.”
The group Phillips was referring to includes outside linebackers Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Trevon Young, as well as inside linebackers Micah Kiser and Travin Howard.
“I think you look at it and you like some of the depth that you’re able to create with some guys that can play on the edge,” head coach Sean McVay said recently. “Then you add interior players that can do some different things and allow us to be a bit more versatile at some of those spots and add some depth.”
Kiser has been talked about as one of the rookies with the best chances at making an early impact on the defense. The Virginia product led the ACC in tackles for three consecutive seasons, recording 33.5 tackles for loss, 19.0 sacks, and eight forced fumbles along the way.
“Micah has an opportunity to fit in, I mean we lost our MIKE linebacker,” Phillips said. “We lost our leading
tackler, so hopefully he can come in and step into those shoes, which are big shoes for a young guy.”
“But he’s got all the talent,” he continued. “I mean hey, those are great things going in and I think it’ll take him a little time, but we feel like he was a really good fit for us.”
All four rookies will join a linebacker room that already includes Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre, Cory Littleton, Bryce Hager, Ejuan Price, Garrett Sickels, Carlos Thompson and recently signed Ramik Wilson. Of the group, Ebukam, Longacre, and Littleton have the most game experience, combining for 1,007 snaps in 2017.
All together — with some significant contributors from last season and a couple of promising newcomers — the Rams linebacker group includes several viable options for 2018.
“We [definitely] have some guys on the team that can come through for us,” Phillips said. “It’s going to play out, but I feel good about it right now. We have some talent.”