Rams have three healthy backs to keep offense running against injury-plagued 49ers
While injury-fueled attrition is forcing many NFL coaches to deal with tough personnel decisions, Rams coach Sean McVay welcomes another kind of quandary.
The Rams will go into Sunday’s NFC West game against the San Francisco 49ers with running backs Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown all physically sound for the first time this season.
McVay’s challenge is finding opportunity for all three.
“Champagne problems,” McVay said Monday during a videoconference.
In the Rams’ 30-10 victory at Washington on Sunday, Henderson rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. Akers broke off a 46-yard run. Brown gained 30 yards in eight carries as the Rams improved to 4-1.
Henderson, who has started the last three games, is recovered from the hamstring injury that left him at less than full strength in the opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Akers showed against Washington that the rib injury that sidelined him for most of the previous three games was healed.
A record six of NBC’s first eight prime-time games this season are being played in the West. That’s a big change to the trend.
All three will have important roles when the Rams play the defending NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on “Sunday Night Football.”
“How that workload is distributed is kind of something that we get a feel for as the week unfolds,” McVay said, “and then really in a lot of instances as the game’s unfolding.”
The 49ers used a three-back rotation last season en route to advancing to the Super Bowl. But coach Kyle Shanahan’s injury-riddled team is 2-3 after a 43-17 defeat to the Miami Dolphins.
“This is going to be a big-time game, a great opportunity for us,” McVay said. “This is a great football team no matter what some of the stats or scores from [Sunday] look like.”
Henderson has a star-crossed history against the 49ers.
As a rookie last season, he produced several dynamic first-half plays in the first game between the teams. But he was part of a fumbled pitch play on the first series of the second half, giving the 49ers momentum that helped send the Rams to defeat.
In the second to last game against the 49ers — another Rams loss — Henderson suffered an ankle injury that required surgery.
“Put that behind me,” Henderson said Monday.
Morgan Fox and Darious Williams are quickly establishing themselves as key components for a Rams team looking to shut down Washington on Sunday.
Henderson said it was good to have all three running backs healthy and ready to contribute. Akers showed breakaway ability against Washington.
“When you got backs that can do a lot, it’s only going to keep us fresh, so like big plays are waiting to happen,” Henderson said.
Akers, a second-round draft pick, said it was good to be back after being injured against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I kind of just fell on the ball and like three bodies fell on top of me when the ball was kind of poking inside, poking in my ribs,” he said.
So McVay and the Rams were somewhat cautious working the rookie back into the rotation against Washington.
“We wanted to just be able to see how Cam was feeling,” McVay said. “That’s a weird deal when you’re coming back and you’ve got a rib [injury] and seeing the comfort level of how close you’re carrying the ball and the ball security.”
Akers said he has learned from Brown and Henderson. Sharing carries is not a problem.
For Alex Smith’s father, Doug, it was emotional and inspiring to see his son play quarterback Sunday for the first time since his gruesome leg injury.
“It just presents a complete backfield,” he said. “You know, a three-headed monster.”
Akers said he was happy with his role. But he will be ready for an increased workload if called upon.
“I want more if more is available,” he said, “but whatever they need me to do at this point in time or at that point in time in a game, that’s what I do.”
Safety Jordan Fuller re-injured his right shoulder on the final defensive snap against Washington, McVay said. Fuller sat out the previous game against the New York Giants because of the injury suffered against the Buffalo Bills. Fuller and linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (elbow) will be monitored, and their status for practice Wednesday is uncertain. ... Cornerback Jalen Ramsey had “a little bit of a” shoulder issue, McVay said, “but he’s going to be good to go.” ... Linebacker Micah Kiser (groin/chest), who sat out against Washington, will be limited, McVay said. “We’ll be hopeful that he’ll be able to play this week,” McVay said. ... The Rams are off Tuesday.
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