Rams backup cornerbacks are ready to take a step up in the absence of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters
It’s been more than two years, but Sam Shields is ready.
With star cornerback Aqib Talib scheduled for ankle surgery, and star cornerback Marcus Peters regarded as a game-time decision because of a calf injury, Shields is on track to start for the Rams against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night at the Coliseum.
It would be Shields’ first start since the 2016 season opener, when he suffered a concussion while playing for the Green Bay Packers. Shields was sidelined for nearly two seasons.
“A lot of people still like want to know, ‘Is he all right?’ Things like that,” Shields said Tuesday. “For me, it’s just kind of show people I still got it.
“I can still do it.”
Shields, Troy Hill and slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman are expected to fill in for Talib and Peters, both of whom left last week’s victory over the Chargers because of injuries.
Coach Sean McVay said Monday that Talib would probably have surgery. On Tuesday, after the 11th-year pro received a second opinion, a procedure was scheduled for Thursday. McVay did not provide a timeline for Talib’s return.
“We’ll find out the specifics once [surgeons] get in there,” McVay said.
Peters is “taking steps in the right direction,” McVay said. It seems doubtful, however, that the Rams would risk a long-term problem by playing Peters only four days after the injury.
“If we get him, we’ll be extremely excited and that’s a big boost to us,” McVay said. “If not, like we said, we have a whole lot of confidence in Sam Shields and Troy Hill.”
They are sixth in total defense, giving up 296 yards per game, and also rank sixth in pass defense (199.3 yards per game). They have surrendered only two touchdown passes, which ties for the league lead.
“We’ll be fine,” Robey-Coleman said of possibly playing without Talib and Peters.
The Rams face a Vikings team that is 1-1-1 after a 27-6 defeat Sunday at home by the Buffalo Bills.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed an $84-million guaranteed contract before the season, has passed for seven touchdowns with two interceptions. He ranks second in the NFL with 965 yards passing.
Cousins has an array of weapons, including Adam Thielen (who has 32 receptions), Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
That combination presents a test for the Rams, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was encouraged after watching Shields and Hill play against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
“It’s a challenge any time your second-team people are in there,” Phillips said, “but we have a lot of confidence in those guys.
“We can call the same calls.”
Shields, an eighth-year pro, intercepted a pass in a Week 2 victory against the Arizona Cardinals and broke up a pass against the Chargers.
He expects Cousins and the Vikings to test the backup cornerbacks early.
“That’s part of the game,” he said. “Backup’s in, hey you got to go at him. We’re ready for it.”
Hill began his pro career in 2015 with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent. He signed with the Rams before the 2016 season and started four games.
“I’ve been here before,” Hill said. “It’s the same thing — just go out there and do what I’ve been doing.”
Other Rams players repeated the “next man up” mantra.
If the Vikings test the cornerbacks, so be it.
“Soon enough, early on in the game, they’ll realize that, ‘OK, we just got to go to our regular game plan. We can’t just try these guys on the outside,’ ” safety John Johnson said.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald said the backups would rise to the occasion.
“If they test them, they’re going to get interceptions just like Talib and Peters,” he said, adding, “Big shoes to fill. But they’ll do it.”
Linebacker Dominique Easley (knee) remains questionable for Thursday’s game. … The Rams will wear their blue, yellow and white “throwback” uniforms, and for remaining home games. … The Rams took out a full-page ad in The Times on Tuesday that featured a humorous letter from McVay urging Los Angeles area employers to let workers off early Thursday to attend the game at the Coliseum. … The Rams will distribute yellow “rally” towels emblazoned with “RAMS HOUSE!” at Thursday’s game.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.