During the offseason, between the high-profile trades for star cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and the signing of star defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, the Rams quietly signed inside linebacker Ramik Wilson.
The Rams wanted the former Kansas City Chiefs player to provide depth for a position group that featured veteran Mark Barron as the only returning starter.
Now, Wilson might replace Barron in the lineup or play significant snaps as his backup in Monday night’s opener against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland.
Barron, who had offseason shoulder and Achilles surgeries, did not practice on Thursday or Friday.
“We’re concerned about him being ready,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.
“To say it’s a concern is fair, for sure,” coach Sean McVay said.
Barron, a seventh-year pro, went through walk-throughs but did not participate in team drills during offseason workouts, minicamps and training camp. He appeared to have made strides near the end of the preseason, taking part in individual drills and saying he would be ready for the opener.
But Barron’s Achilles condition has apparently regressed or flared.
“With some of the workouts and some of the things that he’s taking part in — just maybe not feeling as good as we’d like right now,” McVay said. “Really, most importantly, as good as Mark would like to feel.”
The Rams traded linebackers Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree and let Connor Barwin leave as a free agent as they remade the defense with players that were regarded as better fits for Phillips’ hybrid 3-4 scheme. They were counting on Barron, who will earn $10 million this season, to be the veteran presence for a linebacker corps devoid of others with extended starting experience.
If Barron, 28, cannot play, that will make a position group that was already a question mark even more of a mystery.
Cory Littleton is the middle linebacker and will call defensive signals. Second-year pro Samson Ebukam will start at one outside spot, and Matt Longacre and Dominique Easley will rotate at the other.
Wilson, 26, started 11 games for the Chiefs in 2016 and four last season. He started every preseason game for the Rams and said he was prepared if Barron cannot start.
“I know the system,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
Wilson is a smart player, has experience as a starter and played well during the preseason, Phillips said.
“He knows what to do,” Phillips said, adding, “so I have confidence in him.”
So do teammates.
“He’s been getting great reps,” Talib said. “He’s been in there, so we are familiar with him.”
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald will not have any limitations on the number of plays he participates in against the Raiders, McVay said.
Donald sat out training camp and the preseason before signing a $135-million extension last week.
Last season, Donald sat out training camp and reported on the eve of the season opener. He did not play in the first game, but still finished the season with 11 sacks and was voted NFL defensive player of the year.
“He’s doing everything in his power to get himself ready,” McVay said. “It’s been a short time, but this is something he has been through before.
“There’s not going to be any limit on his snap count.”