Avoiding IR List will Key This Year’s L.A. Ram Linebackers

Leonard Floyd

Getty Leonard Floyd of the Los Angeles Rams closes in on Washington quarterback Kyle Allen during a 2020 game. Floyd is energizing a linebacker unit that was decimated by injuries last season.

Leonard Floyd’s sack production wasn’t the only thing that piled up for the Los Angeles Rams defense on their way to the top spot last season.

Unfortunately, there was an injury pile up.

The Rams had guys go down during training camp that diluted the list of outside linebackers who were available. The inside realm had players filling in for others too due to injuries. Fortunately, the Rams still managed to produce the No. 1 defense in the league. Yet, Floyd was the only one who played and started all 16 regular season games from this unit.

Moving forward, staying healthy will be the driving force for this year’s LB group – especially for guys who are now facing a make-or-break year. Here’s a closer look at the 2021 LB unit.

Floyd Has Higher Expectations for Himself

Floyd’s 10.5 sacks led to a nice pay raise – getting signed to a four-year, $64 million contract extension in March that, according to spotrac, will shoot from the $2 million he has now to $16 million in 2022. His extension won’t make him an unrestricted free agent until 2025 when he’ll be 33.

Here’s one example of the kind of game-changing plays he delivered in 2020.

In this clip, he shows his hustle and refusal to stop until he gets to the quarterback. Coming from the strongside (attacking from the right) he gets chipped first, but manages to find a lane to Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

What Ram fans and coaches will love about Floyd: He’s not complacent about last year’s results or his fat new deal.

“I just learned keep being me, and it’ll pay off,” Floyd told reporters on May 25. “This offseason, I got right back into the lab just continuing to work on my craft trying to have a better season than I did last season.”

Floyd has the bar set high for himself. But what about the ILB’s?

Young Speaks Highly of 2021 Group

Kenny Young became a full-time starter and saw career-highs in total tackles and assisted stops. And he had to operate inside when rookie Travin Howard went down in training camp. But as he pointed out in his June 8 video conference with reporters, it’s next man up too for the ‘backers.

“Everyone is here to help and make each other better. It’s very competitive,” Young said.

Kenny Young Talks Impressions Of Raheem Morris & Goals For 2021 SeasonLos Angeles Rams LB Kenny Young discusses what's stood out to him from working with new DC Raheem Morris, how he views solving communication on defense in wake of safety and defensive signal caller John Johnson III's departure this offseason, and his personal goals for the 2021 season based on how last year went. Subscribe…2021-06-09T04:05:43Z

He’s being joined by two ILB’s who went from fighting for playing time in 2019 to reaching past 75 total tackles in 2020: Micah Kiser and Troy Reeder. In nine games, Kiser tallied 77 tackles. Reeder reached 76. Reeder, though, is likely remembered for his three sack day versus Washington on October 11 when he filled in for Kiser.

Now, newcomer Ernest Jones is expected to make a push for one of the inside spots. He was the top defensive leader at South Carolina including calling the signals. The third round draft pick spent OTA’s relaying signals to Aaron Donald and the other Rams.

With Young returning, Howard back at full health, Jones on board, plus Kiser and Reeder showing their dependability, the ILB realm is solidified. Young not only speaks for them, but the entire LB realm when he says this is a highly-thought of unit.

“Got a group of hungry guys, guys that are smart, have some speed, that can command things, they’re all great team players, high character guys and honestly, it’s a blessing,” Young said.

Who Else Can Step Up?

The rest of the linebacker room features newcomers and guys looking to breakthrough, especially the ones who were on injured reserve.

Chris Garrett is one of the new guys. The 2021 seventh rounder got on draft boards by earning the label of best pass rusher in NCAA Division II history by Rams senior personnel executive Brian Xanders.

Third-year pro Justin Hollins served as a rotational LB and provided three sacks on the outside. The rest of the OLB group, though, features a blend of guys battling back from injury or needing a huge 2021 to stay on board.

Terrell Lewis was limited to eight games his rookie year while dealing with a bad knee. Justin Lawler and Ogbonnia “Ogbo” Okoronkwo are two who look like they’re facing a make-or-break year with the Rams. Lawler not only spent 2020 on IR due to his foot, but he hasn’t recorded any stats since 2018. “Ogbo” has had his own troubles with staying healthy (elbow injury sidelined him for most of 2020) and has just 18 tackles through three seasons.

Overall, the inside is solidified but the outside needs to give Floyd help. It all starts with staying healthy in 2021.

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