As a run-stopping defensive tackle surrounded by playmaking teammates, Michael Brockers spent his first five NFL seasons largely confined to the middle of the line of scrimmage.
But Wade Phillips, the Rams' new defensive coordinator, has given Brockers some much-appreciated space.
Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, Brockers lined up wider than usual and made several big plays, including a sack and two pass deflections. The performance will give the Seattle Seahawks something to think about heading into Sunday's game at the Coliseum.
"Inside I wanted to show the world what I had," Brockers said. "You want to be a team player — you want to do what you have to for the team. But at the same time, sometimes you want those little accolades, to get the sack and hear your name called.
"So it feels good to help your team out and make those big plays."
Brockers, 6 feet 5 and 305 pounds, made big plays before. In the Rams' previous victory against the San Francisco 49ers, he intercepted a potential score-tying two-point conversion pass that bounced off a defensive back.
But Brockers, 26, has been overshadowed during his career by players such as three-time Pro Bowl lineman Aaron Donald and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Robert Quinn.
The move by Phillips seemed to liberate Brockers, a 2012 first-round draft pick who in September 2016 signed a three-year extension with about $24.4 million in guarantees.
Brockers said he was nervous before the game against the Cowboys but was fine after the first play.
"It's like, 'OK, it's time to go,' " he said. "Don't worry about being wrong, being exact. Just go."
He went on to show he can be more than an interior run-stopper.
"For [Phillips] to see me as a playmaker and to open it up and give me those opportunities, I appreciate it," Brockers said. "And I just want to show him that he didn't make the wrong decision and I can get the job done."
Said Phillips: "He's a really good player at any position he plays, especially going against the offensive tackles that Dallas has. He played really well against those guys and showed how good he can be."
Moving Brockers also enabled Phillips to start rookie Tanzel Smart for the first time. Smart recorded a tackle for a loss.
"Like we've said about him over and over, he continues to do all the little things the right way and he's playing productive football," coach Sean McVay said of Smart.
Donald also continues to come on after sitting out training camp because of a still-unresolved contract dispute.
"He looks like he's getting into shape and he looks like he did on film," Phillips said, adding, "We're always going to try to match him up one on one as much as we can, not let them double-team him and I thought we did that pretty well last game."
Running back Todd Gurley was the NFC offensive player of the month for September and the NFC offensive player of the week for his performance against the Cowboys.
Gurley rushed for 121 yards and caught a team-best seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
The third-year pro said the favorite award he has won was the 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year.
But Gurley said he does not play to win awards.
"Hopefully a championship, that would be the award," he said.
One other also would be nice.
"Super Bowl MVP — that would be lovely," he said, laughing. "Shoot for the stars, but hopefully we can get a big award here soon."
Receiver Sammy Watkins returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday because of illness. Offensive lineman Jamon Brown (groin) and safety Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring) did not practice. Center John Sullivan (groin) was limited. … The Rams are expected to add receiver Mike Thomas to the roster Friday. Thomas has been practicing this week after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. "It just was a disappointment at the end of the day, just knowing that I did [something] irresponsible," Thomas said. "Put it behind me and looking forward to coming back."
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