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Rams’ Malcolm Brown rises from roster longshot to leader of running backs

The Rams' Malcolm Brown leaps over Saints safety Marcus Williams to score a touchdown in 2018.
The Rams’ Malcolm Brown leaps over Saints safety Marcus Williams to score a touchdown in 2018. Once the young upstart, Brown is now the veteran of the running backs group.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Five years ago, he was a wide-eyed rookie trying to make the Rams’ roster as an undrafted free agent.

Now Malcolm Brown is the team’s oldest and most experienced running back.

After the Rams released star Todd Gurley in March, that left the 27-year-old Brown as the most veteran in a position group that includes Darrell Henderson, 22, rookie Cam Akers, 21, and John Kelly, 23.

Brown chuckled Monday while acknowledging it qualified as a generation gap.

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“Definitely,” he said, during a videoconference with reporters. “They always make jokes that I’m the old head in the room and stuff like that.”

In the aftermath of Gurley’s release, coach Sean McVay and the Rams’ rushing attack will be under intense scrutiny this season.

‘Hard Knocks’ is attempting to chronicle both the Rams and Chargers. Because of COVID-19 and no preseason games, the HBO show must stretch and tell a broader story.

In 2018, the Rams gave Gurley a $60-million extension. But after last season’s 9-7 finish — and with an expected record-setting contract for cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the horizon — the Rams determined that Gurley was too expensive. They cut him in March and a month later selected Akers in the second round of the NFL draft.

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McVay has indicated that replacing Gurley will be a group effort rather than a solo venture.

Brown, 5 feet 11 and 222 pounds, has rushed for 769 yards and scored seven touchdowns in five seasons. Henderson, a third-round draft pick in 2019, got limited opportunities as a rookie before suffering a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. Akers is regarded a fast and powerful runner with versatile skills.

Kelly, a sixth-round pick in 2018, spent most of last season on the practice squad.

“Malcolm Brown is a guy that I think’s going to do a great job of setting the tone for that room, in terms of being a pro’s pro,” McVay said this month as the Rams prepared to begin training camp.

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Brown has embraced his role of the sage veteran.

“I tell guys all the time I take pride in my consistency and being able to stay into this league for this long,” he said. “I’m just going to keep this thing moving and keep doing what I’ve been doing for this long and do it even better.”

Gurley’s departure was not the only change for the running backs position group: McVay hired Thomas Brown as the new coach after declining to retain Skip Peete.

The Rams’ decision to bring back Michael Brockers is turning out to be fortuitous move with A’Shawn Robinson placed on the non-football injury list.

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Malcolm Brown said the new assistant has brought an intense presence and a focus on details. To help, Brown said he was attempting to provide “an extra set of eyes, be an extra example for these young guys to play off.”

The Rams are in their second week of the acclimation phase of training camp as they prepare for their Sept. 13 opener against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.

A strong performance by Brown this season could help him when he hits unrestricted free agency for the first time. After the 2018 season, as a restricted free agent, Brown signed an offer sheet with the Detroit Lions. The Rams exercised their right to match and gave Brown a two-year, $3.3-million deal that included $2.1 million in guarantees.

Brown said he was not looking ahead.

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“That is months and months down the line, so right now I’m really focused in on the Rams organization,” he said. “This is what I’m a part of, this is what I love right now, and this is what I’m going to do.

“That part will take care of itself.”


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