Since joining the Rams before the 2017 season, coach Sean McVay has proved adept at hiring and promoting staff, designing and orchestrating the offense, and contributing input for the drafts, trades and free agents that have made the Rams one of the Super Bowl favorites.
Now the reigning NFL coach of the year has a new challenge: managing the injured-reserve list.
Linebacker Dominique Easley is expected to join the Rams’ growing list after undergoing knee surgery Monday.
Easley would be the fourth player — kick returner Pharoh Cooper, cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Mike Thomas are others — to land on the list.
Under NFL rules, a team can designate two players to return to the roster from injured reserve. Players are eligible to return to practice after six weeks and can be activated after eight weeks.
At this point, Talib and Cooper appear likely to be activated when eligible, which would keep Thomas and Easley sidelined for the remainder of the season.
But it will be interesting to see how McVay, the training staff and general manager Les Snead manage the situation. Do they hold off on activating Cooper, a Pro Bowl player in 2017, so they can keep a spot in case a player such as running back Todd Gurley or Aaron Donald suffers an injury before or near midseason?
It’s a scenario that McVay was not required to deal with in 2017. Notable players such as kicker Greg Zuerlein and then-defensive lineman Matt Longacre were placed on injured reserve because of late-season injuries.
Easley’s surgery was another setback for a player who had come back from three major knee surgeries that dated to his time at the University of Florida. Easley, a 2014 first-round draft pick by the New England Patriots, joined the Rams in 2016 but was sidelined for the 2017 season after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a noncontact play during training camp.
Easley returned before this season and was moved to outside linebacker to reduce some of the physical stress of playing on the interior defensive line.
He rotated with Longacre at outside linebacker in the first three games, and did a good job pressuring the quarterback and forcing offensive linemen into holding penalties. But Easley, who has had surgeries on both knees, suffered a meniscus injury in his right knee against the Chargers and sat out last Thursday’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
“This poor guy,” McVay said. “I couldn’t be more impressed with just the toughness, how resilient he’s been fighting through so many different things with this knee.
Said Longacre: “It sucks for him. … My heart goes out to him. I hope he has a quick recovery.”
Rookies Trevon Young and Justin Lawler could figure in the plan to replace Easley in Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle, McVay said.
Young, a sixth-round draft pick from Louisville, was active for the first time against the Vikings. He was in for two plays in the 38-31 victory, and said he would be ready if called upon for a larger role against the Seahawks.
“It was good,” he said of his debut last week. “It wasn’t much [playing time] but I feel like for the next game I’ll be a little more prepared.”
Inside linebacker Mark Barron, who has not played this season because of an Achilles issue, went through early-practice drills Monday and might play in Sunday’s game at Seattle, McVay said. The game against the Seahawks had been targeted as a possible return for Barron, McVay said, because of the irregular early-season schedule, which included a short turnaround between the games against the Chargers and the Vikings.
“This was kind of always a target date that we had set to really get a chance to truly evaluate him,” McVay said, adding, “So, this week provides an opportunity. ... If we can get Mark back out on the field we’ll feel good about that.”
Zuerlein, sidelined the last two games because of a groin injury, also possibly could return this week, McVay said. Last season at Seattle, Zuerlein struggled to finish the game because of a back condition that required season-ending surgery.
Kick returner JoJo Natson, sidelined last week after surgery on his left hand, also could play against the Seahawks.
McVay said he was able to relax a bit over the weekend, but still watched football. “A lot of good games, a lot of good situations that kind of came up that you try to think through, ‘How would we want to handle that with our team?’”… The Rams are off Tuesday.