Rams will be looking to address linebacker in draft as they rebuild middle of defense
As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine their roster. Part 1 of 8: Linebackers.
With the addition of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, the remade Rams defense is even more stout along the front and upgraded on the back end.
But what of the middle?
Trades that sent linebackers Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn to the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins, respectively, make linebacker a position of need for the Rams heading into the April 26-28 draft.
“That’s a position where you have to add depth,” general manager Les Snead said. “It’s very hard to replace Alec Ogletree with one player, because Alec could play the run and play the pass.
“We may have to address that with a rotation of players who have different strengths.”
The Rams’ strength and conditioning staff managed linebacker Mark Barron’s multiple physical issues last season. It could be a challenge again as Barron, 28, begins his seventh NFL season, the third year of a five-year contract he signed before the 2016 season.
Third-year pro Cory Littleton, a special teams standout, stepped in at times last season for Barron and Ogletree, and could start inside with Barron. Second-year pro Samson Ebukam is in line to take Quinn’s spot after starting two games and recording two sacks last season.
The Rams added free-agent Rakim Wilson, who started 16 games the last two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips acknowledged that the Rams need “six or seven” linebackers to fill out the 90-man offseason roster.
“We’re not where we need to be yet,” he said. “But I think we will be after the draft. … I think we’ll be comfortable about where we are.”
Linebackers under contract: Mark Barron ($10 million), Cory Littleton ($635,000), Rakim Wilson ($750,000), Samson Ebukam ($707,000), Bryce Hager ($723,000), Carlos Thompson ($630,000), Ejuan Price ($555,000), Garrett Sickels ($480,000).
Free agents: Connor Barwin, 31, is testing the market. There is a possibility that the locker room leader and mentor for Ebukam and others could return, but it would be at a price well below the $3.5 million he earned last season. Free agent Junior Galette was on the Washington Redskins roster when coach Sean McVay and linebackers coach Joe Barry were with that franchise, but he was hurt both seasons.
Draft: The Rams have eight picks — one in the third round, three in the fourth round and four in the sixth. They will be looking for linebackers — especially edge rushers — in all rounds, and also as they attempt to sign undrafted free agents.
Roster decisions: The Rams are not in panic mode about their linebacker corps, especially in a league in which five and, occasionally, six defensive backs are deployed to stop passing offenses. Barron’s salary was thought to make him a potential target for release or restructure, but the Rams instead dealt Ogletree to make room for Talib and his $11-million price tag.
NEXT: Defensive line.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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