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Rams position battles: Will Malcolm Brown carry the running game?

Rams running back Malcolm Brown is congratulated by teammates.
Rams running back Malcolm Brown, center, is congratulated by Austin Blythe, right, and Robert Woods after scoring against the Carolina Panthers last season.
(Brian Blanco / Associated Press)

The Rams conducted meetings, conditioning drills and walk-throughs for two weeks. In the last few days, they transitioned to more up-tempo training camp workouts in helmets.

On Tuesday, they will conduct their practice in shoulder pads in preparation for the Sept. 13 opener against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium.

And they will do so with only a few starting positions undecided.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the NFL to mandate virtual offseason programs. The preseason was canceled. That left draft picks and other new additions in a more pronounced catch-up mode than players experienced during previous seasons.

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But new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said this week that coaches will have “plenty of time” to evaluate players.

“This process is exactly how it happens in college football,” Staley said. “You don’t have preseason games to evaluate your players. You have practice to evaluate your players.”

But barring injury, starting positions at the outset are expected to be filled by the most experienced players, even if that is only a season or two of NFL service time.

Here is a look at starting spots to be decided:

Running back


Rookie Cam Akers was selected in the second round of the draft with the Rams’ first pick. So the former Florida State star is regarded as the front-runner to get the majority of touches during the season.

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But for the “Sunday Night Football” opener, the trust factor works in veteran Malcolm Brown’s favor. The sixth-year pro has played in big games, is not apt to fumble and he will not have to adjust to NFL speed.

Darrell Henderson played sparingly as a rookie last season and is coming off ankle surgery. Third-year pro John Kelly is also on the roster.

Kevin O’Connell, the Rams’ new offensive coordinator, is relishing the chance to finally work on the field with quarterback Jared Goff.

Coach Sean McVay, of course, may decide on a running-back-by-committee approach to take advantage of each player’s skills.

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At the outset of training camp, McVay said the staff was eager to see how the running back group “expresses itself” as training camp ramped up.

“Very confident some young players, that they’ll do their thing, and they’ll get plenty of opportunities to do that,” he said.

Right offensive tackle


After recovering from several injuries during the off season, Rob Havenstein probably is on track to reclaim his job for the opener.

The sixth-year pro, who signed a $32.5-million extension in 2018, struggled last season before injuries sidelined him for seven games. Rookie Bobby Evans stepped in and impressed. If Havenstein falters during workouts, Evans is ready to replace him.

The Rams re-signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth but at age 38 he is regarded as a year to year. So offensive line coach Aaron Kromer could train Evans as a swing tackle as a possible heir to Whitworth’s spot.

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Guard/tackle Joe Noteboom and center/guard Brian Allen are returning from knee surgeries.

Austin Corbett replaced Noteboom last season at left guard. Kromer can play Austin Blythe at center or either guard spot. Second-year pro David Edwards started 10 games at right guard last season.

Outside linebacker


Edge-rusher Leonard Floyd, the ninth player chosen in the 2016 draft, is playing on a one-year, prove-it contract as he attempts to replace Dante Fowler.

Fourth-year pro Samson Ebukam is the most experienced option opposite Floyd.

Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and special-teams coordinator John Bonamego are cancer survivors but don’t have reservations about coaching this season.

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“He is a guy that I followed throughout his career as a young player to now,” Staley said of Ebukam. “We are excited for him to be able to take a step forward and really get a chance to show what he can do.”

Obo Okoronkwo, Natrez Patrick, Justin Lawler, Jachai Polite and rookie Terrell Lewis also competing to start or play in rotation.

Inside linebacker


Troy Reeder, an undrafted free agent in 2019, started eight games last season. That’s more career starts than any player in the position group.

Reeder played the spot that Micah Kiser appeared on track to fill in 2019 before he suffered a season-ending chest injury during the preseason. Now, they are competing to start alongside each other. Travin Howard and Kenny Young also have experience, and rookie Clay Johnston could push for a role.

“There is a group of guys there that have not played a lot of football in the NFL,” Staley said. “I think that we are optimistic about who they are as competitors, who they are as people.”

Cornerback


Staley has said that he considers star Jalen Ramsey more than a cornerback. If Staley deploys Ramsey all over the field, Troy Hill and Darious Williams will have opportunities on the outside and perhaps as the slot cornerback.

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Second-year pro David Long also is competing for a role. Rookie safeties Terrell Burgess and Devin Fuller also have versatility to play hybrid roles.


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