For years, the LA Rams tradition of calling defensive plays fell to the inside linebacker. His location on the football field at the center of the defense role was similar to the same position of the opposing offense’s quarterback, and so it made sense to locate the defensive playcalling at a similar equidistant location. Many defenses used that logic once, and over time that tradition became the accepted norm. The last inside linebacker to call the defensive plays for the LA Rams was in 2019 by Cory Littleton. He was awarded the green dot on the back of his helmet, and that meant that he was the defensive quarterback.
That tradition all changed in 2020 with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Under Staley, defenses were more challenged in the passing attack by offenses than by rushing attacks by offenses. With that perspective, it simply made more sense for the Rams defensive coverage to be handled by a secondary player. Fortunately, the LA Rams had the ideal candidate in safety John Johnson III. Johnson was incredibly sharp, instantly diagnosed offenses, and had a good rapport with both Staley and his teammates. He wore the green dot in 2020.
If Shakespeare called it correctly so very long ago when he wrote that “Uneasy lies the head who wears the crown,” then in the NFL, the player who wears the green dot on the back of their helmet carries the same weight of responsibility. For he’s the designated player with a tiny radio receiver and a set of miniature speakers inside their helmet so they can talk to their coaches at specific times during the game.
Only one player from each team is allowed on the field at a time with a radio in their helmet. So of course, one of the significant question marks for the 2021 NFL season would be who would be the heir to the defensive play-calling duties?
The list of potential candidates was long indeed, from rookie inside linebacker Ernest Jones to returning ILB Micah Kiser, to the three-year veteran Taylor Rapp. Each of those player options offered rationale both for, and against, the honor.