In 2020, the LA Rams faced a season unlike any other in their past. The projected lead running back for the offense, Darrell Henderson, had only carried the ball 39 times the previous year for only 147 rushing yards without a touchdown. The Rams also had veteran Malcolm Brown returning, but his 69 carries only racked up 255 yards. He was able to get five touchdowns, so that was promising. The Rams did draft running back Cam Akers who was a solid prospect, but some had their eye on other players. The entire running back room for the Rams in 2020 had only carried the ball 108 times in 2019 for 412 yards and five touchdowns. That was all.
Some were frustrated by the fact that the Rams failed to add any offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. An offensive line that was the 31st ranked squad in the NFL in 2019, and the Rams plan was simply to get the band back together. No proven talent at running back. No reason to believe in the offensive line. If you think things are pretty glum now, you must have blocked last season’s despair out of your mind.
Unproven does not mean incapable
Three unproven running backs running behind the 31st-ranked offensive line from 2019 and coached by a rookie RB Coach Thomas Brown. How did that all turn out again?
This is an eye-popping stat: The Rams have 698 rushing yards this season, the most through five games since 1987, per @ESPNStatsInfo.
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) October 12, 2020
Best five-game output since 1987? Well, that went awkwardly better than most expected now didn’t it?
In one of those ironic idiosyncracies, NFL optimism before the season starts is ridiculed, downplayed, and outright shamed to the point where each optimistic point must be weighed and measured carefully. But when an injury happens to an NFL player, the floodgates seem to open wide and all of the pent-up pessimism and vitriol flows freely, unchecked.
Here we go again!
In almost identical circumstances, the same LA Rams team races a new season with unproven running backs.
Los Angeles Rams
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Well, semi-proven Darrell Henderson, as he put up 139 rushes for 624 yards and five touchdowns this year. But if you compare the 2020 preseason and the 2021 preseason, here are several factors that are much more promising.
In 2020, the LA Rams didn’t know if any running back would play well. In 2021, the LA Rams know that Darrell Henderson is certainly capable of 100 yards per game, and if he remains healthy, could put up 1000 yards in a season.
In 2020, the LA Rams were trying to repair a badly injured 2019 offensive line, and without a full training camp were forced to assign starting roles for players and run with it. That pushed Joseph Noteboom to left guard, rather than a more capable David Edwards. Noteboom did sub in for an injured Andrew Whitworth for the second half of the season. But all told, the LA Rams truly did not benefit from their best offensive line configuration with the exception of only a few early games in the 2020 season as a result.
Open tryouts for running back in 2021
In 2020, the LA Rams did not have the benefit of a full training camp. All preseason games were shut down. The Rams had to guess at which running back would work, and in what order. It was that fact that compelled the team to start the season with veteran Malcolm Brown. It was that same lack of training camp and preseason games that compelled the team to stick with a three-man rotation, and not insert either Xavier Jones or Raymond Calais into the lineup.
Jones and Calais will get their shots this year. As will rookies Jake Funk and Otis Anderson Jr. This year is a completely different script than 2020, but in terms of the team sorting out the running back situation, it’s all good news.
While neither Xavier Jones nor Raymond Calais carried the football for the team’s offense in 2020, they were prepared to do so and were coached up all season with that goal in mind. In 2021, the additions of both Funk and Anderson may not have moved the needle for fans, but the team made the moves with the reasonable expectations of adding fierce competition to this team in both training camp and preseason games.
Coach Thomas Brown made such an incredible impression with the Rams organization that he was promoted to Assistant Head Coach in just his second season with the team. Now, that same coach will be spearheading the effort to coach up and prepare the remaining running backs to perform for the team this year. If the Rams add another player from the waiver wire later down the road? So be it. But I believe that this team can get ample production from the players currently on the roster. And don’t be surprised if one running back beats all expectations.