The LA Rams training camp finds linebackers arriving recognizable household names. But each hops a bit of Aaron Donald will rub off on them
The LA Rams training camp has a lot of items on the “To Do” list. Perhaps one of the most critical, if not the critical, tasks is setting that linebacker depth chart. Not just to post online, but to set the starters for the 2020 NFL season. While the Rams former linebackers Clay Matthews and Bryce Hager remain unsigned, the team launched two of four linebackers into the upper strata of NFL society.
Both ILB Cory Littleton and OLB Dante Fowler Jr. have signed major contracts with new NFL teams. While Fowler was good enough prior to his arrival from the Jacksonville Jaguars, he exploded in production when he played for the Rams. On a parallel track, Littleton rose from the ranks of undrafted free agents to one of the top free agents in the 2020 NFL Free Agency market. The common denominator? Both played on the same defensive front as Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald. As offenses focused on Donald, Fowler and Littleton were free to cause damage.
Tuesday’s gone with the wind
Now they are gone. While they will no longer benefit from Aaron Donald’s presence, a new crop of hopeful linebackers are eager to capture the same benefits and generate the same production, in their wake. While we’ve taken a pre-camp swing at the LA Rams depth chart, we admit outright that we used the SWAG method (scientific wild-assed guess) when setting the inside linebacker depth chart. We have the starters as Micah Kiser and Troy Reeder for now. Why? Well, Kiser was the projected starter last year to start alongside Littleton before falling to a season-ending injury. And Reeder did start eight games for the Rams last season at the position and stands the same height as Littleton at 6-foot-3.
At the outside linebacker position, we are going with veterans Leonard Floyd and Samson Ebukam to start the season. We originally had expected rookie Terrell Lewis to get snaps as early as game one, but his assignment to the team’s COVID-19 list will really hurt his chances to see action early in the season. In his place, look for teammate Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to see action in the first games until Lewis gets up to speed.
We need a hero, or two
The Rams will dominate at the defensive line and the secondary is one of the NFL’s best. Are the Rams linebackers the weak link? They were perceived to be in 2018. But they grew as a unit, unlocking the potential of Cory Littleton that season, and the 2018 early-season trade for Fowler proved to have a huge payoff. Is a similar scenario shaping up this year? After all, the Rams signed a talented but undervalued OLB Leonard Floyd. And the team appears poised to promote undrafted linebacker Troy Reeder to a starting role.
Can history repeat itself? Well, lest you ignore the facts, Aaron Donald will line up on the team’s defensive line one more. That same “mysterious boost” to the production of Fowler and Littleton is still there, ready to “mysteriously boost” the production of Floyd and Reeder. Sometimes that which is our heart’s fondest desire is that which we already hold. As it stands, the Rams linebacking corps may indeed be the defense’s weakest link this year. But that’s like standing on the third shortest mountaintop of the Rockies. They may fall short, but they will do just fine.