Like everybody working for the Rams, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is eager to see star defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald lined up side by side.
Donald is still nowhere to be seen at UC Irvine. It’s the second year in a row that he has stayed away from training camp because of a contract dispute.
Donald’s absence has prevented Phillips from evaluating Suh, the Rams’ marquee free-agent acquisition of the offseason, playing in a lineup with last season’s NFL defensive player of the year.
Asked Monday if there was a specific time he wanted to see Suh and Donald together on the field, the 71-year-old Phillips was typically deadpan.
“On yeah, tomorrow would be good,” he said. “But we’re off tomorrow. Hopefully that’s coming up … that’s what everybody’s looking forward to.”
The Donald situation could continue through training camp, the preseason and possibly into the regular season.
Phillips remains unfazed.
He started coaching in the NFL in 1976 and has seen his share of holdouts and other dramas.
After more than four decades in the league, he still enjoys training camp.
“It’s always interesting to me, no matter what,” he said. “Even if you have the same guys, it’s a new team every yeah. ... So it’s fun for me.
“Sometimes it’s a chess game and sometimes it’s just coaching to see if you can improve players no matter who they are.”
Suh, linebacker Ramik Wilson and cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Sam Shields are new additions to a team that won the NFC West last season under first-year coach Sean McVay.
Phillips continues to serve as an understated and experienced sounding board for an occasionally high-strung head coach, McVay said.
“He’s done it so many different ways,” said the 32-year-old McVay, adding, “He’s able to give his input but it never feels forced.”
Suh, who was signed to a one-year, $14-million contract, is “right where he needs to be,” Phillips said. He noted that Talib, who won a Super Bowl playing under Phillips in Denver, and Peters are blending and establishing themselves as leaders.
The linebackers, with Cory Littleton moving into a starting role in the middle, are coming along for a defense that is 70% installed, Phillips said.
Rookie Joseph Noteboom has worked at left tackle as Andrew Whitworth’s backup, but also at right guard as a possible replacement for Jamon Brown, who is suspended for the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Second-year pro Austin Blythe is regarded as the front-runner to start at right guard until Brown is eligible to return in Week 3 against the Chargers.
Brown is practicing with the starters and is eligible to play in preseason games. Once preparation begins for the Sept. 10 opener at Oakland, however, he cannot be at the team facility until after the Week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The suspension creates a challenge for Brown to be ready upon his return, and also for the position group while awaiting his return, run game coordinator Aaron Kromer said.
“Not having his personality, not having all his energy that he brings and his power in the running game,” Kromer said. “We have to overcome that.”