Rams’ Bryce Hager has inside track to start in place of injured linebacker Micah Kiser
In four seasons with the Rams, linebacker Bryce Hager started one game on defense.
As the entire Rams roster got back on the field together during practice Tuesday, Hager’s projected role began to grow exponentially.
With Micah Kiser sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery Tuesday for an injured left pectoral muscle, Hager is on track to start alongside Cory Littleton at inside linebacker in the Sept. 8 season opener at the Carolina Panthers.
Hager, a special teams stalwart, said after practice that nothing has really changed. He’s been preparing to start on defense since he joined the Rams as a seventh-round draft pick in 2015.
“In this league, as a backup you have to treat yourself as a starter because you have to know anything can happen,” Hager said.
Rams coach Sean McVay has held out nearly every starter on offense and defense during the preseason to avoid injuries that would keep them from being available for the opener.
But Kiser, a second-year pro, and Hager played against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys so that coaches could continue to evaluate which would replace Mark Barron in the starting lineup. Kiser appeared to be leading the competition until he was injured in last week’s 14-10 defeat by the Cowboys in Honolulu. McVay described Kiser’s injury as “significant” but gave no timetable for his return.
“It’s going to be awhile,” he said.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo missed most of last season because of foot surgery, but he hopes to make Rams as member of the linebackers corps.
Hager was a free agent after last season. In May, the Rams re-signed him to a one-year, $805,000 contract that includes $90,000 in guarantees, according to overthecap.com. Hager played well against the Cowboys, contributing to a sack of quarterback Dak Prescott among other plays.
“We’ve all seen when Bryce has gotten his opportunities, he’s shown that he’s deserving of being out on the field and been a really productive player for us,” McVay said.
The loss of Kiser “hurts” Littleton said, but he expects Hager will step in and help the Rams the same way in their drive to return to the Super Bowl. Hager knows every nuance of the defense, Littleton said.
“He’s so well prepared,” Littleton said, “and that’s something I love about him, because when I’m out there I get to lean on him a lot more to help me.”
Travin Howard, a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, and rookie Dakota Allen are among other inside linebackers on the roster. Safeties Marqui Christian and rookie Taylor Rapp also can play as hybrid linebackers.
Rookie Natrez Patrick, who combined with Hager for the sack of Prescott, was moved to outside linebacker after Justin Lawler suffered a foot injury that required surgery. Patrick will remain at outside linebacker, McVay said.
NFL rosters will be trimmed from 90 to 53 players in the days following the final preseason games on Aug. 29. Asked if the Rams would be shopping for a veteran inside linebacker, McVay said the staff had confidence in Hager and the younger players. But General Manager Les Snead always is looking for ways to improve the team at all positions, he said.
While Kiser’s injury was unfortunate, it will not change the way McVay approaches preseason games.
“I’m not going to let one situation affect the way we go about it” he said.
Todd Gurley well rested
Running back Todd Gurley was among the starters who did not travel to Hawaii for the game against the Cowboys, enabling him to rest and prepare for practices this week.
“Sat at the house for two days straight,” he said. “Can’t get better than that.”
Gurley was on an every-other-day practice schedule during training camp and the first two weeks of the preseason. That is not expected to change as the Rams get ready for the game Saturday against the Denver Broncos and the preseason finale against the Houston Texans.
The Rams fell 14-10 to the Cowboys in a preseason game in Honolulu, but third-round pick Darrell Henderson was in the thick of things.
Rookie running back Darrell Henderson started against the Cowboys. He caught a pass and turned it into a 26-yard gain on his first touch.
“Made those guys look silly,” Gurley said, adding that Henderson also “had a couple good runs” and did well in pass protection.
Cornerback Aqib Talib continues to be held out of practice because of a hamstring issue, and outside linebacker Trevon Young because of an ankle injury, McVay said.