The L.A. Rams Have 6 Defenders Taking Advantage of the Preseason

Rams defense

Getty Justin Lawler (No. 53) celebrates with Eric Banks while Ernest Jones (No. 50) is behind both during the August 14 preseason game against the Chargers.

The Los Angeles Rams defense – without their starters from last year’s No. 1 ranked unit during the month of August – look like they haven’t missed a beat during the preseason, allowing no more than 17 points in two preseason games and surrendering an average of 244 total yards.

If anything, the unit has guys who are proving they can be starters elsewhere or when needed if injuries were to try to decimate the unit.

But keep in mind: Much like how I mentioned Saturday that there are six offensive players (including undrafted rookies from 2020) battling for a spot, there are Ram defenders trying to take advantage of this month of August and having preseason games to play in, with the hope they do enough to land on the 53-man roster come August 31.

One rookie is already a shoe-in to play a part in this defense. Five others, though, have clearly let it be known they want their names on the final roster once the press release for the season opener on September 12 comes out. Half of them went undrafted in 2020.

Here’s who I believe are the six defenders taking advantage of this preseason period.


The six on Defense Includes Three ‘Backers

Half of this group represents the linebacker room. Here’s who is standing out this preseason.

Justin Lawler, outside linebacker/rush end: Lawler was only on the field for 20 plays on Saturday, but the Charger game made everyone watching realize how serious he is about coming back from all those foot surgeries. His best moment was when he used a straight bull rush to gain penetration and then finish with the quarterback hit, forcing the Charger field goal unit onto the field.

Chris Garrett, outside linebacker: The 2021 seventh rounder Garrett overwhelmed the Raiders with his speed and tenacity, culminating in his epic night. He had four tackles and two sacks on 55 plays this preseason. On his two biggest plays, Garrett used speed and a stutter step with the hand jab to get 1.5 sacks.

Ernest Jones, inside linebacker: The third rounder Jones has shown his poise and smarts when called upon. But he also showed high production in limited action on Saturday against the Raiders: Six tackles in just 18 plays. Jones has had the honor of wearing the green dot on his helmet (meaning he relays the defensive signals from the sideline) along with fellow linebacker Micah Kiser.


FCS Standout Trying to Remain on Roster

In the trenches, the Rams have gone with a steady rotation in the absence of starters Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day and A’Shawn Robinson. However, there’s one Football Championship Subdivision standout who has elevated his game during these two preseason contests.

Jonah Williams, defensive line: In 56 total snaps, the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has a 86.2 overall grade by PFF. The 2020 UDFA Williams also has two sacks. Williams starred at Weber State and left as the 2019 Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Big Sky Conference, arguably the most talented conference in the FCS realm.


2020 UDFA Safeties Bringing the Boom, Plus Production

Lastly, in the defensive backfield, the Rams have discovered they have more sure tacklers to choose from…and could be the guys who join Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess in the safety room once the Chicago Bears pull up to Inglewood to kick off the season.

J.R. Reed, safety: Two games in, and the Georgia Bulldog has been the highest graded defender and Rams player by PFF with a 91.4 grade. Reed has taken the fourth most snaps at 66. In coverage, the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder from Georgia has been targeted five times by quarterbacks in the two August contests, but has surrendered just three passes for 12 yards. On the tackle front, he’s averaging four tackles a game and is yet to miss a tackle.

JuJu Hughes, safety: The second-year safety out of Fresno State has been on the field the most among the safety unit with 76 defensive snaps per PFF. In 46 of those plays, Hughes lined up at free safety. He not only has four tackles (six assisted) but against the Raiders, he snuffed out a potential goal line touchdown of Derek Carrier and was one of the defenders that stopped Nathan Peterman short of the end zone (a touchdown that was reviewed and overturned). In coverage, Hughes has surrendered three passes for 33 yards, which was against the Raiders. But, he broke up two passes his side.

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