The Los Angeles Rams ushered in some significant turnover to both the roster and coaching staff following a disappointing 9-7 finish in an effort to spark a potential resurgence at SoFi Stadium in the 2020 NFL season.
Although the restrictions placed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic were hardly ideal for a team undergoing such major changes, there are still a number of notable voids the Rams must fill on both sides of the ball if they hope to get back on track.
With training camp just around the corner, here are five of the more intriguing position battles to keep an eye on:
1. Running Back (Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers)
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the Rams’ decision to part ways with star running back Todd Gurley. Gurley’s prior status as the central force of the turnaround on offense means his successors are going to have some big shoes to fill.
Head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead have already indicated that they will rely on a committee in the backfield, however, this still leaves plenty of speculation surrounding which option will emerge as the starter between Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers.
Brown has the most experience filling in for Gurley while Henderson managed to make a solid impression on the coaching staff as a rookie last year. Although Akers may be heading into training camp at a disadvantage as he continues to get acquainted with the playbook amid the ongoing pandemic, he could be poised for an integral role right away given his skill set and status as their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2. Inside Linebacker (Micah Kiser, Travin Howard, Kenny Young, Troy Reeder)
The Rams suffered perhaps their biggest loss in free agency with linebacker Cory Littleton signing with the Las Vegas Raiders. As a result, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has already indicated that it will be an open competition to replace him.
Micah Kiser has emerged as the favorite to take over for Littleton as one of the shot-callers on defense despite missing all of last season with a pectoral injury. Travin Howard managed to play in all 16 games last season, finishing 19 total tackles and three pass breakups.
Troy Reeder saw the most playing time out of the bunch after finishing the 2019 campaign 52 total tackles and two fumble recoveries while starting in eight games. Kenny Young will also be looking to make his case in his first full offseason in Los Angeles following his midseason acquisition in the Marcus Peters trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
3. Wide Receiver (Van Jefferson and Josh Reynolds)
The Rams made headlines with their decision to trade Brandin Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for a second-round pick in the draft. They wasted no time in flipping that pick to bring in Cook’s potential successor in Van Jefferson with the 57th overall pick.
There has been plenty of speculation regarding who will fill in for Cooks as part of the new three-headed monster in the receiving corps between Jefferson and Josh Reynolds. Reynolds’ familiarity with the system and experience should certainly help pay huge dividends in the battle for the No. 3 spot.
Regardless, it is safe to assume that Jefferson will get his fair share of opportunities to prove himself as a viable option in the passing game next to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
4. Interior Offensive Line
The offensive line is arguably the biggest question mark heading into the 2020 campaign considering all the adjustments that had to be made during this group’s injury-plagued season. While they managed to keep left tackle Andrew Whitworth around as a stabilizing factor, the depth chart for every other position up front seems to be up in the air.
Austin Blythe took over for an injured Brian Allen at center in Week 10 after beginning the year at guard and his improved play indicates that the transition could become a permanent one. If the coaching staff decides to keep Blythe in the middle, the left guard spot will be up for grabs between Austin Corbett and Joseph Noteboom. Noteboom was hardly impressive during his time as the starter before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 6. However, Corbett managed to earn some praise from McVay as the former 33rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
David Edwards was tasked with changing positions from right tackle to right guard amid all the injuries to the offensive line last season and is now considered as the frontrunner to take over as the full-time starter depending on where the Rams opt to place Blythe. Tremayne Anchrum is expected to serve as another candidate while McVay has also floated the idea of right tackle Bobby Evans competing for the job.
5. EDGE (Samsom Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Terrell Lewis)
Los Angeles parted ways with both of its edge rushers in Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews this offseason. They did manage to alleviate the loss by signing Leonard Floyd as one of the replacements, however, it remains to be seen who he will be paired with on the other side of the ball.
Fortunately, the Rams have several talented, young options that can step up in Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Terrell Lewis. Ebukam is easily the most established player of the bunch given his experience as a starter and integral role player in recent years and will likely carry an edge as the starter to begin camp.
Okoronkwo is still in a good position to give Ebukam a run for his money and could be viewed as the superior option to utilize in passing situations. Lewis will need some time to find his footing as a rookie but it will be interesting to see if the former Alabama product is able to make waves leading up to the regular season.