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Micah Kiser making an impact with Rams’ linebacking corps

Micah Kiser is a fourth-year pro who has earned a starting spot at inside linebacker for the Rams.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Micah Kiser already had collided with Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders on the first two plays of the game — once on a run and once on a pass near the sideline.

On the next instance, he mixed things up.

The Eagles called an interior run play, and the Rams inside linebacker met Sanders in the hole. As Kiser wrapped his arms around Sanders, his hand slid toward the ball and caused a fumble. When inside linebacker Kenny Young recovered the ball, it placed the offense in prime field position, setting up their first score.

“That’s just one thing you’re going to get out of me, running to the ball and just trying to get guys down,” Kiser said.

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Kiser said it wasn’t anything special, just a simple technique he refines every practice with position coach Joe Barry. But it set the tone for the Rams’ 37-19 victory, a game in which he produced a team-high 16 tackles. That performance earned him NFC defensive player of the week, which was announced by the NFL on Wednesday.

Through two games, Kiser has a league-high 17 solo tackles. Young ranks fifth on the Rams in total tackles with nine. Against the Eagles, Young added four total tackles and landed a hard quarterback hit on Carson Wentz.

The early performance of the tandem hasn’t come as a surprise to their teammates, but it might have answered questions from observers regarding the Rams’ linebacker corps after they shuffled personnel in the offseason.

“Both these players, when they arrive at the point of contact, you feel them,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “There’s a second level of physicality that our defense has from those two in particular, where you’re making teams earn every yard. I expect them to continue to improve as they gain experience, which we know is so valuable for those younger players.”

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In the offseason, the Rams let edge rusher Dante Fowler and inside linebacker Cory Littleton sign multiyear deals as free agents with the Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively.
They then released veteran outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

The Rams signed outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who played under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley when Staley was his position coach with the Chicago Bears.

Rams have some injury issues to resolve at running back as Malcolm Brown has left pinky repaired and Cam Akers is questionable with rib injury.

Fourth-year pro Samson Ebukam was moved into the other starting outside linebacker spot. Travin Howard, expected to be a key contributor in the rotation, suffered a knee injury during training camp.

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All eyes then shifted to Kiser and Young to fill the void in the middle in Staley’s 3-4 scheme. Kiser, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick, had not started a game before this season after missing last season because of a preseason pectoral injury. Young, a third-year player, is now in his first full season with the Rams after being traded by the Baltimore Ravens in 2019.

Their statistics show quality production, and at a cheap price. Both players’ base salaries for this season are less than $1 million, according to overthecap.com.

Through two games, Kiser and Young tallied 32 total tackles. On their new teams, Littleton and Fowler have a combined15 tackles. Kiser and Young were instrumental in containing Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert to 72 combined yards and no touchdowns.

Defensive back Troy Hill said Kiser has been a vocal leader, helping get everyone lined up. Young has been “playing fast and leaving everything out there,” Hill said.

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“They are out there balling,” Hill said. “They are surprising everybody else, but I feel like they never had any doubt in themselves. I’m loving what I’m seeing from them.”

Darious Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for Eagles receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the third quarter Sunday to keep the Rams’ lead.

At training camp, Kiser said his recovery focused both on his physical and mental health. He met regularly with Dr. Carrie Hastings, the Rams’ team sports psychologist, and worked out in his garage in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Young, drafted out of UCLA, said being back in Los Angeles is a “perfect fit.”

The defense is anchored by All-Pros in defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Young said the perception that the linebacker group is the team’s weak link works to their advantage because it motivates them to prove others wrong.

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“I think what separates the inside linebacker group is the ability to go show it” — as in showing their doubters wrong — Young said. “People just don’t know what’s going to be out of that group. Collectively, we’re a great group.”

McVay said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen through two games. As the year progresses, McVay said he hopes to see the young core develop consistency.

“We feel really good about the pillars we have in place,” McVay said. “We’re continuing to build -- by no means do we have the answers — but you just want to see that daily improvement and continue to stack blocks.”

Rams vs. Bills matchup
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)
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