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With Mark Barron's departure, Rams have an important spot to fill at linebacker

When Los Angeles released veteran linebacker Mark Barron earlier this month, the team had interest in bringing him back at a lower contract number.

That, however, did not work out for the Rams, as Barron signed a two-year deal with the Steelers.

Barron had been a significant piece of the Rams' defense going back to 2014, when the team acquired him from the Buccaneers via trade. The former first-round pick was a wildcard of sorts on the Rams' defense for the rest of that season and in the early stages of 2015, before transitioning to weakside linebacker in the club's former 4-3 scheme. Then once coordinator Wade Phillips arrived in 2017, Barron became the team's second starting inside linebacker in the 3-4.

But Barron's last couple of years saw him significantly impacted by injury — keeping him out of two games in 2017 and then four in 2018. Nevertheless, Barron's presence was certainly felt when he was on the field.

That's part of why head coach Sean McVay told reporters this week at the league meetings in Phoenix that the Rams are going to miss Barron going forward.

"You know, I think Mark Barron — what a stud he is. You know, what he's meant to this team long before our coaching staff got there — we were hopeful to try to get Mark back, but to his credit, he had a lot of teams that were interested," McVay said. "Pittsburgh got a great one — a great competitor, kind of a silent leader in his own way. I always had so much respect of the way that Mark handled some of the adversity, specific to the injuries. And he just went out and competed. And you could see the way that the players and his coaches respected him. He's going to be a guy we're going to miss a lot."

At this point, rising second-year linebacker Micah Kiser would slot in as the starter at the Rams' second inside LB spot alongside defensive signal-caller Cory Littleton. McVay mentioned Kiser on Tuesday, saying that part of the reason why L.A. drafted Kiser was for him to play that position eventually.

A 2018 fifth-round pick out of Virginia, Kiser played 63 percent of special teams snaps last year — only three players had more — but the linebacker did not get any time on defense after the preseason.

But whether or not Kiser ends up starting the season at ILB, Los Angeles will likely need to beef up that position. Aside from Barron, linebackers Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager are also unrestricted free agents. Earlier this month, general manager Les Snead said, "There's probably a little more work to do at that position through this process."

As the offseason continues, inside linebacker is certainly a position to monitor for the Rams both in free agency and the draft.

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