Check out photos of Day 10 of Phase 2 of the Los Angeles Rams offseason program
The 2018 Rams re-vamped defense has mainly been about the team adding key pieces up front and in the backend. But the departures of Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn have raised the question throughout the offseason of who will take their place.
There's still a lot of time between now and the season opener against Oakland on Sept. 10, which means the Rams can be methodical about who they chose to start. But at least for now, head coach Sean McVay sounds content to have some competition at linebacker.
That's with the likely exception of Mark Barron, who is the sole projected starter remaining at either inside or outside linebacker on the roster for 2017.
Still, McVay named Barron, Cory Littleton, Bryce Hager, and free agent signee Ramik Wilson as the four players who may get the first reps on the inside as the Rams begin OTAs next week.
"You look at Mark Barron, you look at Cory Littleton when he got an opportunity to start in place of Mark last year — how great he played against Tennessee — Bryce Hager stepped in when 'Tree got hurt in the Arizona game, and then Ramik Wilson is a guy that has played a lot of good football for a great defense in Kansas City the last couple of years," McVay said on Tuesday. "So, those are guys that have played football, they are NFL-caliber players that you feel confident in."
"But by no means are they ahead of anybody else," McVay added. "Those guys have kind of earned the right to be the ones that are taking those first few reps and then we'll see based on how they accelerate or how they perform."
At outside linebacker, both Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam played significant snaps in the 2017 defensive rotation. McVay mentioned both of them and Morgan Fox as players who may have an advantage to start OTAs. Fox played more as a defensive end in the club's 3-4 scheme last year.
"That's going to be something when you really look at it, Matt Longacre is a guy that has had some success. Morgan Fox is a guy that we feel like is going to allow us to play outside a little bit more because of his athleticism and his position flex. Samson Ebukam is a guy that we expect to take strides which he demonstrated throughout the year," McVay said. "So, I think when you look at some of those guys we've had some production from the outside rusher spot and we're excited about seeing them continue to grow."
L.A. drafted a pair of inside linebackers and a pair of outside linebackers, and then signed another as a college free agent. Again, there's plenty of time for all 13 linebackers to make an impression on the coaching staff — in either a positive or negative manner. And that's how the players who contribute will ultimately be determined.
"Our job as a coaching staff is to evaluate and get the best 11 out there on offense, defense, and special teams," McVay said.