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More questions than answers as Rams assemble for training camp

The Rams' Darrell Henderson runs against the Denver Broncos in an NFL preseason football game last August.
Darrell Henderson will be counted upon this season to help fill the shoes of the departed Todd Gurley.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Shortly after his team’s disappointing 2019 season ended without a playoff berth, Rams coach Sean McVay overhauled his coaching staff and, as the offseason continued, his team’s roster.

But the COVID-19 pandemic prevented new coordinators Kevin O’Connell, Brandon Staley and John Bonamego and other coaches from working with returning players and new additions.

Players brought in to fill voids left by the departures of stars such as running back Todd Gurley and linebackers Dante Fowler, Cory Littleton and Clay Matthews largely remain mysteries. So too are nine drafted players and other undrafted rookies.

That means there are more questions than usual as the Rams begin training camp.

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Here are six they will try to answer before the Sept. 13 opener against the Dallas Cowboys:

Who replaces Gurley?

In 2018, the Rams gave Gurley what was then the richest contract for a running back in NFL history. Two years later, they cut him to save cash.

Since the Chargers used the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft to select Justin Herbert, how long can fans expect Tyrod Taylor to remain the starting quarterback?

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Veteran Malcolm Brown, second-year pro Darrell Henderson and rookie Cam Akers will probably share the responsibility of replacing a player who was the league’s offensive player of the year in 2017.

Brown, a sixth-year pro, is proven, though mainly as a backup. Henderson, a third-round draft pick in 2019, did not get much opportunity as a rookie and suffered a late-season ankle injury that required surgery.

In April, the Rams selected Akers in the second round with the 52nd overall pick, their first in the draft. Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last season at Florida State.

John Kelly, a sixth-round pick in 2018, also is in a position group.

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Thomas Brown is the new running backs coach. He replaced Skip Peete, who was not retained by McVay and is now a member of the Cowboys staff.

Does Staley have enough time to install a more effective defense?

Staley, 37, coached outside linebackers for the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos before McVay tabbed him to replace Wade Phillips, an NFL coach since 1976.

During the virtual offseason program, several Rams defensive players raved about Staley. But none have been on the field to run his scheme, which he has said would not look vastly different than the hybrid 3-4 the Rams ran under Phillips.

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Last season, the Rams ranked 12th in passing defense, 19th in rushing defense and 17th in scoring defense.

Star lineman Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safety John Johnson are leaders of a unit that will be young and inexperienced at inside linebacker and unproven on the edges.

The Rams signed free agent edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff stands on the sideline at the Coliseum.
With star running back Todd Gurley now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Jared Goff will be expected to carry a bigger load this season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Is quarterback Jared Goff ready to bounce back?

The biggest questions surrounding Goff going into the 2019 season concerned his ability to rebound from a poor Super Bowl performance, and whether the Rams would get a new deal done for the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.

On the eve of the opener, he signed a $134-million extension that included a then-record $110 million in guarantees. Then he went out and had his worst season since becoming the fulltime starter in 2017.

Goff passed for 22 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions. It marked the first time that Goff, 25, regressed statistically in those categories from a previous season.

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McVay is the play-caller and de facto offensive coordinator, but after going without a titled coordinator in 2018 and 2019, McVay expects O’Connell to carry out many of the same duties Matt LaFleur performed on the staff in 2017. O’Connell is also the untitled quarterbacks coach and will attend to Goff.

Can receiver Josh Reynolds replace Brandin Cooks as a deep threat?

The cost-cutting trade that sent Cooks to the Houston Texans elevated Reynolds into the projected lineup with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.

At 6-foot-3, Reynolds is a tower compared to the speedy 5-10 Cooks, but he will have to convince opponents he is worthy of respect as similar consistent deep threat.

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With only one winning season under his belt as starting quarterback, is Derek Carr in danger of losing his job to Marcus Mariota?

The Rams drafted Van Jefferson in the second round. The son of former NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson is talented, but without the opportunity to be on the field with teammates during the offseason program he is probably in line to begin the season as the fourth receiver.

Who will start at linebacker?

Before suffering a season-ending chest injury, Micah Kiser appeared on track to start alongside Littleton last season. Kiser’s setback created opportunity for undrafted free agent Troy Reeder.

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Now with Littleton playing for the Las Vegas Raiders, Kiser and Reeder are regarded as frontrunners to start at the inside spots in a group that also includes Travin Howard, Kenny Young and rookie Clay Johnston.

The Rams need Floyd, the ninth pick in the 2016 draft, to perform better on the outside than he did for the Bears. Samson Ebukam, Obo Okoronkwo, Natrez Patrick or rookie Terrell Lewis — currently on the COVID reserve list — could start opposite Floyd.

With no preseason games, how will Bonamego and McVay choose a kicker?

More than ever, every kick in practice will count as Lirim Hajrullahu, Austin MacGinnis and rookie Sam Sloman compete to replace Greg Zuerlein, the 2018 playoff hero now kicking for the Cowboys.

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Hajrullahu is a Canadian Football League veteran and has made many pressure kicks as a pro.

MacGinnis performed well in the defunct Alliance of American Football and the XFL before signing with the Rams.

Sloman, a seventh-round draft pick, impressed at Miami-Ohio.


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