For former LA Rams LB Clay Johnston, family is stronger than Ramily

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

LA Rams 7th round rookie ILB Clay Johnston signs to Panthers practice squad

The LA Rams do not have much luck when it comes to retaining late-round drafted linebackers recently. The Las Vegas Raiders signed linebacker Dakota Allen off the Rams practice squad in September 2019. At that time, we knew it was a risk, one we lobbied for the Rams not to take. The Rams placed Allen on the practice squad, and the rest was history.

Fast forward to 2020.  Once more, the LA Rams chose a linebacker late in the NFL Draft. This time, it was Baylor’s linebacker, Clay Johnston. While not stated, we believed that the Rams needed to protect Johnston from being poached by keeping him on the 53-man roster. The Rams chose to try sneaking Johnston to their practice squad.  Well, you know how this one ends, don’t you?

Family > Ramily

Johnston chose to rejoin his father and former Baylor coaches with the Carolina Panthers. And so, he elected to sign with their practice squad. One more year, one more linebacker, one more player lost to another team.

In the end, who can blame him? He has the chance to be paid to show up and workout with his father, and play once more for the coaches he had spent his past four seasons with. He also has the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Panthers much as he did with the Baylor Bears.

Alas Clay Johnston, we hardly knew you

There was a lot to like about Johnston, and a bit to remain on the fence over. He was rehabbing when the Rams drafted him with their seventh-round pick. While that did not hurt him this year due to the virtual prerequisite to training camp, it did mean that the Rams took a chance on the young man, one without a reward.

Johnston arrived in a flurry of passion, and its that residue that most will recall in the weeks ahead. What we truly did not get to see was the standout Baylor linebacker who patroled from sideline to sideline, shed blockers, and made huge tackles. That will have to wait for someday down the road.  We didn’t get to witness his ability to diagnose the play, command the defense, and be in the right place at the right time. That will have to wait for another day down the road as well.

Rams respond with replacements

In the end, the Rams reached for a player who they hoped would make it to their practice squad to develop for a larger role with the team in 2021.  What they ended up was mentoring a developmental linebacker who has now signed with his father’s team. The Rams can compensate, and have, by signing Daniel Bituili, Derrick Moncrief, and Christian Rozeboom.

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If reports can be trusted, Christian Rozeboom may have leapfrogged over Johnston at training camp. The Rams signed both Bituli and Moncrief with just one week remaining in training camp and did not have enough time to truly evaluate either player. The Rams lost a very likable player to the Carolina Panthers today. But the NFL is a business after all.  And to Clay Johnston, that will never be as strong as a family.