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Rams

Wade Phillips likes how new pieces fit in his Rams defense

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, center, talks to fellow coaches at Rams training camp last August. Phillips, 72, appears trimmed down this year.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, center, talks to fellow coaches at Rams training camp last August. Phillips, 72, appears trimmed down this year.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Rams players are not the only ones getting into shape for the season.

During training camp, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has walked more than three miles from the team hotel in Newport Beach to the practice fields at UC Irvine several times. Phillips, 72, appears trimmed down from last season.

“Somebody told me the other day, ‘Hey, you lost some lbs, huh?’ ” Phillips said Friday. “I said, ‘We didn’t lose any linebackers, did we?’ ”

The Rams have not lost any players because of injury during the first week of camp, but they are replacing three starters from a defense that experienced highs and lows last season before playing well in the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

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Lineman Ndamukong Suh signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, linebacker Mark Barron the Pittsburgh Steelers and safety Lamarcus Joyner the Oakland Raiders.

The Rams re-signed edge rushing linebacker Dante Fowler and added veteran linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Eric Weddle. Phillips will find a way to get the most out of his players, said tackle Aaron Donald, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year.

“He puts his guys in great positions to have success,” Donald said, “and if you got to tweak a couple things here and there for a guy to be that much better, he’ll do it.”

The Rams expect marked improvement from last season. The defense ranked 19th in the NFL, giving up 358.6 yards per game. The Rams ranked 14th in passing defense (236.2 yards per game) and 23rd in rushing defense (122.3 ypg). They were 20th in scoring defense, giving up 24 points per game.

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Donald, voted the No. 1 player in the NFL in balloting by league players, anchors a line that also features veteran Michael Brockers. Second-year pro Sebastian Joseph-Day is working with the starters at nose tackle.

“He’s seen the opportunity and seized it,” Phillips said of Joseph-Day.

Cory Littleton, a Pro Bowl selection last season, returns at inside linebacker. Second-year pro Micah Kiser is competing to fill the other inside spot. Weddle joined a secondary that includes safety John Johnson and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.

The near-decade Eric Weddle spent practicing against Chargers QB Philip Rivers provided a master class that helped him become one other NFL’s top safeties.

The defense mostly fared well Thursday when the Rams practiced with the Chargers in Costa Mesa.

“They ran a lot of plays teams had run against us last year that had been successful, and they weren’t,” Phillips said. “That was a good sign.”

The Rams will get another test Saturday when they practice with the Chargers at UC Irvine.

Asked if he finally has all the pieces in place to play the way he envisions, Phillips sounded cautiously optimistic.

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“We’ll see,” Phillips said. “Like everybody, we have high hopes and high standards right now.

“To play a 3-4 [defense] you have to have really good outside backers and I think we sealed that now with Clay Matthews. I think the secondary’s a really key situation. We got secondary players that can play.

“So I look for good things.”

Phillips, however, does not sound certain that he can maintain his training camp diet and fitness regimen plan.

“Every year I think you do the same thing,” he said, “and then during the season you get nervous and start eating.”

Etc.

The Rams’ practice consisted of a walk-through with no pads. ... Two years ago, a fight between some players broke out when the Rams practiced with the Chargers at Irvine. The Thursday practice with the Chargers was devoid of incidents, and coach Sean McVay is anticipating the same Saturday and next week during two practices with the Raiders in Napa. “There wasn’t anything that took away from both teams’ abilities to get better and to get really a lot of work,” McVay said of the Thursday practice with the Chargers. “That’s what it’s about. I think we’ve had some situations where it became a distraction, where some fights occurred and we’re very optimistic and hopeful that tomorrow will be a lot of the same as what it was on Thursday and we’re hoping for the same against the Raiders.”… Receiver Cooper Kupp, who was held out of most of the practice with the Chargers, will participate Saturday, McVay said. ... Donald on being voted the top NFL player by his peers in a poll conducted by NFL Media: “It’s surreal,” he said, “but it just shows the body of work you put into the game and all the things you do behind the scenes when nobody’s watching, showing all that hard work paid off. It’s been a good ride thus far but I have room for improvement.”


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