Training Camp Positional Preview: Defense

Defense.jpg


We're just 48 hours away from training camp, which means it's time for another look at the Rams roster heading into Saturday's practice. Yesterday, we gave you a breakdown of which players to watch out for on this season's offense, but now it's time to look towards the other side of the ball, with a position-by-position look at the defense. 

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN –

Likely Starters:

The Rams' defense forced 109 negative plays in their first season back in Los Angeles last year. The team will once again be led by a strong defensive core headed by defensive end Aaron Donald and nose tackle Michael Brockers. Defensive end Dominique Easley joins these two as a projected starter this season, rounding out the front three. With a strong line, you can expect more of the same numbers on defense, especially under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The Bottom Line:

The Rams defensive line has a proven success rate of forcing opponents back and working together as a unit. But with Phillips installing a new 3-4 scheme this season, it will be interesting to see how the projected starters adjust to the new defensive system during training camp.

LINEBACKERS –

Likely Starters:

No surprises at this position either — outside linebackers Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin along with inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron should take the field as starters this season. Though Quinn will need to adjust to the linebacker position as a former defensive end, these four vets should put the Rams in a good position overall, fitting well into Phillips' style of play.

Key Additions:

After being signed to a one-year contract in March, Barwin reunited with Phillips, who coached him as the Texans defensive coordinator from 2011-2012. Though he played throughout last season as a defensive end in Philadelphia, he will transition back to the outside linebacker position in Phillips' 3-4 scheme.

The Bottom Line: 

Phillips has a habit of improving the overall defensive unit of whichever team he inherits and the Rams should be no different. Though he is converting the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the new scheme should free up the linebacker position group — making them more mobile and better able to cover both the run and passing game.

DEFENSIVE BACKS –

Likely Starters:

Veteran Trumaine Johnson could be joined by Kayvon Webster, who the Rams signed earlier this year, as the two starters at cornerback. Johnson returns to training camp for his sixth season with the Rams, where he has proven himself as a standout member of the secondary. Webster, joins the team from Denver where he spent the last four seasons, and will be reuniting with Phillips, who served as the Broncos' defensive coordinator in 2015. 

At safety, the projected starters include Maurice Alexander and Lamarcus Joyner. Alexander was named by Pro Football Focus as one of the Most Improved Defensive Players of 2016 where he had a career high 50 tackles and two interceptions. And though Joyner played as a slot corner last season, he will make the move to free safety in 2017. 

Key Additions:

The Rams made significant moves to add depth to the defensive back position group over the offseason drafting safety, John Johnson out of Boston College while signing both Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman at the cornerback position.

The Bottom Line:

The secondary is one of the Rams greatest areas for improvement this upcoming season. But with Phillips at the helm and young talent coming in, the secondary looks primed for success in the future.

SPECIAL TEAMS –

Likely Starters:

Punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein will once again lead the way for the special teams unit. According to Pro Football Focus, Hekker was the league's second highest-graded punter of 2016 leading the NFL in net yards per punt. Zuerlein also enjoyed success last season, recording the second-highest field-goal percentage of his career at 84.6 percent. In addition, special teams coordinator John Fassel will have the chance to look at different punt and kickoff returners like Shakeir Ryan and Pharoh Cooper, in addition to Austin.

The Bottom Line:

Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams special teams unit as one of the best in the NFL last year and this season should prove no different. In 2016, the Rams limited punt returners to just 4.3 yards per chance and with Fassel leading the way, this crew is set for more of the same success.

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