Since taking over the reins of the LA Rams, head coach Sean McVay could pretty much be counted on for three things. His offense would score points, his passing attack would be difficult to defend, and his defense would be able to defend the pass. After that? It’s been an oscillating great to good to great rhythmic cycle for the team’s running game, special teams, run defense, and of course, my pet peeve, turnovers.
But throughout it all, the LA Rams defense was never quite adept at the inside linebacker position. Sure, there have been solid performers in the role. From Ogletree to Littleton to Kiser to Reeder, the Rams seemed to depend on the ability of the defensive line to get to the quarterback and stop the running back, and on the defensive backs to stop the pass. For the inside linebackers? Just manage the game and don’t make mistakes.
But with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, the value of inside linebackers increased dramatically. This is no longer a defense that is content to surrender 4.5-6.2 yards per rush attempt. This is no longer a defensive mindset that gives ground in the middle of the defense but will keep everything in front of them.
Until 2022, the inside linebacker performance has relied heavily upon getting players who could perform in the shadow of All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. I don’t believe that will be as vital for newly acquired inside linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Wagner is not the only positive development.
Second-year ILB Ernest Jones returns after a solid rookie season. Before signing Wagner, many expected Jones to be in line for the starting role this season, and he still will fill the role in a 3-4 base defensive configuration. In fact, combining Wagner and Jones may result in more base defenses and fewer nickel or dime defensive packages this year.
Joining the pair are Travin Howard, Christian Rozeboom, and undrafted rookie Jake Hummel. While they may not be Pro Bowl talents just yet, each can earn a solid rotational role, and simply improve by watching Bobby Wagner work.
While the LA Rams may yet address some positional needs on defense yet before the 2022 season opener, let’s not get lost in the forest for the trees. The LA Rams roster has not appeared to be this capable at the inside linebacker position for a very long time. As a result, the Rams’ 2022 defense may not act the same as past versions. I will be surprised if we are disappointed with the results.