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Raheem Morris relishes the opportunities taking over the Rams defense presents

Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris watches from the sideline during a game.
Raheem Morris has replaced Brandon Staley as the Rams defensive coordinator.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

The Rams’ defense is not a reclamation project.

The unit ranked among the NFL’s best in 2020, and coach Sean McVay rode it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Raheem Morris, the new defensive coordinator, said Thursday that he was not feeling pressure to maintain or improve on last season’s performance.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” he said during a videoconference with reporters. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”

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Morris got the chance after former coordinator Brandon Staley left to become coach of the Chargers.

Morris was the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator last season, and also served as interim head coach for 11 games after Dan Quinn was fired.

Matthew Stafford originally thought salary-cap limitations would prevent the Rams from acquiring him in a trade with the Detroit Lions.

Rams general manager Les Snead has said that McVay “has a vision to keep the DNA” of the hybrid 3-4 scheme that Staley learned under Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio before successfully implementing it during his only season with the Rams.

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Morris said the Rams would “look like a 3-4 base” team and indicated there would not be a complete makeover.

“You’ve got to formulate things that you do around your players,” Morris said. “There will be a lot of things that will be similar. ... It’s based on the guys that you have, and the guys that you have here are really talented — they’re great players.”

The defense is anchored by lineman Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Morris’ strategy regarding the two cornerstones is simple: “Don’t mess them up,” he said. Last week, Donald said that he anticipated Morris would “bring his own little twist” to the defense.

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“I hear nothing but great things about him,” Donald told reporters, “so I’m definitely pumped up.”

Last season, the Rams ranked first in fewest yards and points given up. They also ranked first in passing defense and second in sacks. The Rams finished 10-6 and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game before losing to the Green Bay Packers, 32-18.

“I wasn’t brought here to try to duplicate what they did last year,” Morris said. “We were brought here to win. We were brought here to win a championship.”

Morris began his NFL coaching career in 2002 as a defensive quality control assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His relationship with McVay dates to 2008, when Morris was the team’s defensive backs coach and McVay was a first-year offensive assistant.

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After the Buccaneers fired coach Jon Gruden and his staff after the 2008 season, Morris was hired as the head coach. He compiled a 17-31 record in three seasons.

Morris and McVay reunited on Washington’s staff in 2012. Three years later, Morris then left to join the Falcons. Two years later, the Rams hired McVay.

Morris said he has learned from Gruden and other coaches such as Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Mike Tomlin, Rod Marinelli and Joe Barry. He also has coached on offense — he was the Falcons’ receivers coach from 2016 to 2018 — and the experience has shaped him as a defensive coordinator.

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Morris said he sneaked into quarterback meetings run by Gruden. He also listened to McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur “and all these different boy geniuses right now,” during his time in Washington.

“Being around these guys, you talk offense and do the things you want to do,” he said. “You formulate how you want to play defense and what you want to do against these guys.”

Last season, the Falcons ranked 29th in total defense, sixth in rushing defense and last in passing defense. They were 23rd in sacks and 19th in scoring defense.

After Morris became the Falcons’ interim coach, the team won three of four games, but lost six of the final seven and finished 4-12. Morris interviewed to become permanent head coach, but the Falcons hired Arthur Smith.

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“And then Sean McVay called,” Morris said.

Jacksonville Jaguars special Teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis shouts instructions.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars special Teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis now holds the same position with the Rams.
(Gary McCullough / Associated Press)

After McVay hired Morris, linebackers coach Joe Barry left the Rams to join Staley’s Chargers staff. He was subsequently hired by LaFleur as the Packers’ defensive coordinator. Cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant left the Rams for more responsibility with the Detroit Lions.

Morris said the staff vacancies had been filled but declined to reveal by whom until the Rams make an official announcement. He indicated they had been filled internally.

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Like all defensive coordinators, new to their teams or otherwise, Morris will not know the 2021 roster until after free agency in March and the conclusion of the NFL draft in May. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd, safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill are among the Rams’ pending unrestricted free agents.

Morris said he was “going to have an opinion” regarding personnel, but “there will be decision-makers,” who will make the final calls based on myriad factors.

Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff posted a heartfelt farewell to Los Angeles on Wednesday, days after being traded to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford.

New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis also addressed reporters Thursday. DeCamillis, 55, has coached in the NFL since 2008 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars special teams coordinator for the last four seasons.

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He indicated that improving the return game is a priority.

“We’ve got to get a guy that can ring the bell and drop a ball over the goal line,” he said.

Nsimba Webster returned kicks last season.

Johnny Hekker is the punter and Matt Gay established himself as a reliable kicker after the Rams acquired him November. Long-snapper Jake McQuaide is a pending unrestricted free agent.

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“Jake is a great long-snapper in this league, part of the reason that Hekker’s been successful, part of the reason that [former Rams kicker Greg] Zuerlein was successful here was because of him,” DeCamillis said. “So, lot of respect and, again, the finances will just have to work those things out and, hopefully, he’ll have a chance to come in here and compete because I think he’s excellent.”


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