LA Rams rookie LB Clay Johnston hunting for starting role

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The LA Rams rookie linebacker Clay Johnston is in the hunt for a starting linebacker role

It’s safe to say that the LA Rams are only guessing when it comes to the depth chart at the inside linebacker role. After all, the current projections for the players to start the season at the inside linebacker position are based on the intent to start one player a year ago before an injury derailed his opportunity and a player who saw some spot starter duty on another NFL team. Beyond those two, the Rams have players who saw some action in 2019, and others who remained on the bench awaiting the chance to hear their number called.

But no clear-cut favorite.

That’s all just fine for rookie linebacker Clay Johnston. After all, the 6-foot-1 227-pound linebacker out of Baylor University is always ready for good competition. Right now, the Rams are full of competition, and all aimed at finding the players who can fill the team’s needs at the interior linebacking role. While Johnston is new to the NFL, he’s an old-hand at the linebacker position.

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Winning takes work

Johnston is more than another linebacker who is looking for work on the roster. He is one of the key reasons why the Baylor Bears had so much success in recent years.  He played 35 games in four seasons and had 237 tackles, 26.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions. If he had a history of remaining healthy, he would have likely been a second or third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. He had solid production against great competition. He is a true field general on defense.

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Clay Johnston simply needed an opportunity to play, while the LA Rams simply needed a player with a high ceiling to fill the need.

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Fate played a hand

But he has suffered two knee injuries, and that was enough to flag his draft profile with medical concerns in a season where medical concerns were impossible to clear up. Was that a bad thing or a good thing?  Only time will tell. What we do know is that everything that happened resulted in a player with a great understanding of the position and a high ceiling has ended up playing for a coach who has developed some outstanding linebackers with similar characteristics.

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While the fastest track to earning a roster spot is excelling on special teams, it’s not the sole route. Keep in mind that Clay Johnston’s father is an NFL strength and conditioning coach. That’s vital information in light of the work Johnston has done to restore himself to game-playing shape after two knee injuries. In many ways, the NFL comes at you fast, particularly as an NFL rookie. But Clay Johnston is quite familiar with life in the NFL and will arrive as wide-eyed as many rookie teammates. He’ll need to show up and play hard. But he is already doing that.