Thu, 01 Oct 2020

Analysis: Previewing the position battle at outside linebacker

Los Angeles Rams
13 Aug 2020, 18:24 GMT+10

Stu Jackson

As Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union gets underway, theRams.com will be previewing four key position battles to watch. The series' second installment breaks down the competition at outside linebacker.

Much like their counterparts in the middle, the outside linebackers in the Rams defense are going through a transition of their own.

Last year's starters Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews are gone, vacating not only starting roles but a significant number of snaps for position coach Chris Shula to allocate entering his second season overseeing the group. Further impacting the position battle for those roles is players being asked to do different things compared to last year as a result of new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley's scheme, according to Shula.

Fortunately for Shula, he has an "eager" group of young players to ready prove themselves and embrace the competition. Here's a look at the candidates on Los Angeles' current roster, listed in alphabetical order:

Samson Ebukam

Experience: Three seasons.

Notes: Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Ebukam has been a durable and dependable member of the outside linebacker rotation. He has yet to miss a regular season game and started in 21 of those 48 games played through his first three seasons. Last year, the Eastern Washington product posted 48 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and four pass breakups - all career-highs - while playing in all 16 games (five starts). Ebukam's best game statistically came against the Seahawks in Week 14, when he made four solo tackles and two sacks - both season-highs - in the Rams' 28-12 victory. Of course, no one can forget the memorable performance he had against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football in 2018, either.

Leonard Floyd

Experience: Four seasons.

Notes: After four years with the Bears, the former 2016 top 10 draft pick joined the Rams as a free agent via a one-year deal signed in the offseason. Floyd made 150 total tackles, 18.5 sacks, two safeties, nine pass breakups and returned a fumble for a touchdown in 58 games in Chicago. He has perhaps the most familiarity with what Staley will be asking of the Rams' outside linebackers, since Staley was his position coach with the Bears in 2017 and 2018.

Justin Lawler

Experience: Two seasons.

Notes: Lawler played in all 16 games during his 2018 rookie season, making five tackles. He will look to bounce back in 2020 after missing the entire 2019 season due to preseason foot surgery.

Terrell Lewis

Experience: Rookie.

Notes: An All-SEC Second Team selection in 2019, Lewis was chosen 84th overall by the Rams in this year's NFL Draft after making 31 tackles (11.5 for loss), six sacks and two pass breakups in 11 games in his final collegiate season. Shula said a lot of what Lewis was asked to do at Alabama is what they'll be asking him to do with the Rams.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Experience: Two seasons.

Notes: After injuries sidelined him for his entire 2018 rookie season, Okoronkwo responded by making seven tackles and 1.5 sacks in 10 games in 2019. He flashed his potential in last season's Week 8 game against the Bengals in London, when he made those 1.5 sacks and two of those seven tackles.

Natrez Patrick

Experience: One season.

Notes: One of three undrafted free agents who made the Rams' initial 53-man roster for 2019, Patrick made two tackles while playing in 12 games.

Jachai Polite

Experience: One season.

Notes: Polite was signed to the Rams' practice squad in late September and spent the rest of the season on there, then signed a reserve/future contract with the team in early January to remain on its 80-man offseason roster. Prior to becoming the 68th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, he produced 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss during his college career at Florida, including a breakout 2018 season with 11 sacks and an FBS-leading and school-record-tying six forced fumbles.

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