After sitting out most of the last three games because of injuries, Rams linebacker Mark Barron is on track to start Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card playoff game at the Coliseum, coach Sean McVay said Thursday.
Barron came out of a Week 14 victory at Seattle because of general soreness. He sat out at Tennessee because of an Achilles issue and he was held out of last week's regular-season finale so that could heal and be ready for the playoffs.
"I feel great," Barron said Thursday after practice. "I mean I'm not 100%, but this actually probably is the best I've felt in a couple of months, so I'm feeling pretty good."
McVay and the Rams' training and medical staffs have been cautious with Barron from the time McVay was hired in January.
Barron was held out of most off-season workouts, was limited during training camp and did not play in preseason games.
The strategy paid off, as Barron amassed a team-best 73 solo tackles and intercepted three passes.
Barron described his physical issues as "just a lot of little nagging things that I have going on."
Apparently, those will not prevent the sixth-year pro from playing in his first playoff game.
The Falcons feature two of Barron's former Alabama teammates, receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw.
"If you want to talk about it being a playoff game, that's what I'm really looking forward to," Barron said. "It's not so much about playing against my teammates, it's about being in a playoff game."
If Barron has a setback before Saturday, or struggles against the Falcons, Cory Littleton would play again in his place. Littleton intercepted a pass and recorded a sack against Tennessee in his first start.
McVay has noted that Barron's physical condition was exacerbated by chilly and wet weather at Seattle and Tennessee. He reiterated Thursday that warmer temperatures work in Barron's favor.
"That does play a factor in terms of his health, and the games that he did miss," McVay said, "and we're optimistic and we're feeling good about his availability."
Kicker Sam Ficken, who has played two games in place of injured league-leading scorer Greg Zuerlein, understands the opportunity.
"People play a long time before they get to their first playoff game," he said. "And for me, for it to be the third game of my career, obviously I'm very appreciative of the great opportunity to be with a great team."
Ficken bounced back from a rough start in the first half of his debut at Tennessee and kicked field goals from 23 and 21 yards against the 49ers.
"They weren't very long or whatever, but just to go out there and keep that rhythm going that I found in the second half of the previous game," Ficken said. "You just build confidence every step of the way."
Ficken has performed well during practice, McVay said, but acknowledged an element of the unknown regarding the rookie's ability to make longer kicks.
"Until you get into those games, there's a lot of uncertainty," McVay said. "It's the same thing where you talk about our inexperience as a team, but I think we're confident.
"We're excited about the opportunity and I think Sam feels the same way."
Cornerback Troy Hill is expected to start opposite Trumaine Johnson, but Kevin Peterson might have earned playing time with his two-interception performance last week against the San Francisco 49ers.
"If Kevin needs to go then he'll be ready to, and I think he can draw on last week as a way to kind of build that confidence," McVay said. "He's been a guy that's consistently, whether it be training camp or even out at practices, he kind of has a knack for getting his hands on the ball."
Peterson, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State, got burned for a game-winning touchdown in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins. But he rose to the challenge against the 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
"It's kind of in the back of mind now, just knowing I have some productivity out there," Peterson said. "But I still have a whole lot of stuff to work on."
Receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) did not practice and is doubtful for Saturday's game, McVay said. … On Friday night, several Los Angeles buildings and structures will be lit in blue and white in salute to the Rams, including the Coliseum, City Hall, Union Station, the Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel, the Convention Center and US Bank Tower.
Staff writer Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.