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Rams hoping Leonard Floyd reunion with coach Brandon Staley will ignite linebacker

Former Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd, now a member of the Rams.
The Rams are hoping outside linebacker Leonard Floyd can replace the edge rushing of Dante Fowler, who signed with Atlanta as a free agent.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

The Rams signed outside linebacker Leonard Floyd to fill the void left by Dante Fowler’s free-agency departure.

But Floyd said Monday that he was not feeling pressure to match the performance of an edge rusher who amassed a career-best 11½ sacks in 2019 before leaving to sign with the Atlanta Falcons.

“I just want to come in and play at my level,” Floyd said during a video conference with reporters, “and try to help the team win games and try to dominate on defense.”

Floyd, the ninth pick in the 2016 draft, had seven sacks for the Chicago Bears as a rookie, but did not come close to matching that production the last three seasons. In 2019, he had a career-low three sacks. The Bears cut him rather than paying him $13.2 million.

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The Rams anticipated that Floyd might be a “cap casualty,” general manager Les Snead said, and they moved quickly to sign him after Fowler’s exit in March at the start of free agency. Floyd received a one-year, $10-million contract, the Rams apparently believing that a reunion with new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley would benefit Floyd and the Rams.

Staley was the Bears’ outside linebackers coach in 2017 and 2018.

When the Rams debut in SoFi Stadium, will the 70,240-seat stadium be filled with fans, empty or somewhere in between? Ticket holders are anxious to know.

“It’s going to be great playing for him again,” Floyd said, citing Staley’s preparation, energy and communication skills.

The Rams would like nothing more than to see Floyd’s performance improve as Fowler’s did after a change of scenery.

Fowler, the third pick in the 2015 draft, was traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Rams midway through the 2018 season. He helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl, and parlayed his 2019 performance into a three-year, $45-million contract with the Falcons.

Coach Sean McVay has said the versatility of the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Floyd — and his familiarity with Staley — made him an attractive replacement for Fowler.

“He can rush, he can play in coverage, he’s got length,” McVay said.

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Floyd said he still has work to do.

“I’m coming to L.A. to continue to work on my pass rush,” he said, “to elevate that even more.”

The NFL is operating under the assumption that the season will be played as scheduled, but COVID-19 has created many challenges for the league.

Familiarity with Staley, and the system the coordinator learned from Vic Fangio with the Bears and Denver Broncos, eased Floyd’s transition during the first two weeks of the Rams’ virtual offseason program. Floyd is participating from Atlanta.

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Staley, hired to replace Wade Phillips, is overseeing a remade defense as the Rams attempt to return to the playoffs. Fowler, linebacker Cory Littleton and slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman signed elsewhere after last season’s 9-7 finish. The Rams cut linebacker Clay Matthews. Safety Eric Weddle retired.

The Rams re-signed defensive lineman Michael Brockers after a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens fell through. They signed Floyd and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, and then used four of nine draft picks on defensive players, including edge rusher Terrell Lewis, safeties Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller, and linebacker Clay Johnston.
Drafted rookies and undrafted first-year players began participating in the offseason program on Monday.

For the last two seasons, Floyd played for a Bears defense that included outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year. Now he is part of a defense that features tackle Aaron Donald, the 2017 and 2018 defensive player of the year.

Floyd said Mack taught him about work ethic on and off the field.

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“Dominate,” Floyd said. “That’s all he preached. ... Playing with Aaron, it’s going to be the same way. I know he’s going to be dominating. And I’m going to try and get in and dominate right beside him.”


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