New start, new position for Rams’ Dominique Easley

Rams defensive lineman Dominique Easley forces a fumble on 49ers running back Shaun Draughn on Sept. 12, 2016. The Rams recovered the ball.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A knee injury — the third of his college and pro career — ended Dominique Easley’s 2017 season before it began.

He was happy for the Rams’ success, but disappointed he could not be part of it.

Now Easley, a career defensive lineman, is getting a look at outside linebacker for a unit in need of players who can set the edge and rush the passer.

Saturday, in his first game since the 2016 season, Easley showed he might be a viable option for a team with designs on a Super Bowl run. He played in rotation with Matt Longacre against Houston and disrupted several plays.

“It was great just to be out on the field again, just getting back with the guys,” Easley said Monday. “So it was just an all-around great experience.”

The 6-foot-2, 263-pound Easley came off the physically-unable-to-perform list early last week. He is acclimating to a role that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said could reduce the wear and tear Easley absorbed as a lineman.

Easley, a first-round draft pick by New England in 2014, played effectively for the Rams as a rotational defensive tackle in 2016. Now he is playing in space from a stand-up position on the edge of the line of scrimmage.


“My whole life I’ve been [in] close quarters with everything, so I’m just getting used to it,” he said.

Easley was not required to do so against the Texans, but he said he had experience dropping into coverage. Asked if he enjoyed playing with more room to operate in a new position, he said, “I’m in between. I’m just trying to get used to it.”

Easley and Longacre, who is coming off back surgery, could provide the answer for a position that is regarded as a question mark for the remade Rams defense. The line features proven players such as Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and — presumably — Aaron Donald. The secondary includes cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson.

Second-year pro Samson Ebukam is set to flank inside linebackers Mark Barron and Cory Littleton at one outside spot. Phillips and McVay were eager to see how linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo might fit in an outside role, but the rookie has been slow to recover from foot surgery and appears on track to start the season on the PUP list.

Easley and Longacre will be held out along with the starters for Thursday night’s preseason finale at New Orleans, coach Sean McVay said.

“It was good for both those players to get some snaps,” he said, “and now we’ll kind of implement a program that we feel like is going to be sustainable throughout the course of the season.”

Steak-ing his claim

After signing a $32.5-million extension last week, right tackle Rob Havenstein celebrated by taking the offense out for dinner at a Thousand Oaks steakhouse.

About 18 players ate, drank and toasted Havenstein’s good fortune.

“It wasn’t anything crazy,” Havenstein said of the bill. “It was under 10 [thousand dollars], so it was good. Nobody was buying whole bottles of liquor and taking it home.”


Veteran lineman Rodger Saffold appreciated the gesture.

“It was delicious,” he said, “and it took me two days to run all that off. But it was fantastic.”

Havenstein, 26, was happy to spring for his friends.

“I wouldn’t have been able to be where I am professionally without my teammates,” he said. “They’ve helped me out a whole bunch in terms of personal and professional growth. Anything I can do to kind of give back to them.”


Interior offensive lineman Austin Blythe is among the players who will not play against the Saints, McVay said. Blythe could start the first two games at right guard in place of Jamon Brown, who is suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. … With starters sitting out against the Saints, the Rams are scheduled to scrimmage Tuesday.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein