Jordan Fuller not a big name in Rams’ star-studded defense, but he plays a huge role
No pressure. At least, not anymore.
After safety John Johnson signed a massive free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns, second-year pro Jordan Fuller briefly felt the weight of replacing the signal caller for a Rams defense that includes perennial All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
“I would say I did,” Fuller said of feeling pressure. “It’s gone now.”
Fuller, 23, demonstrated uncommon maturity while starting 12 games as a rookie. Last week he was voted a captain for a Rams team that opens its season Sept. 12 against the Chicago Bears and is regarded as a Super Bowl contender.
New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has entrusted Fuller with the helmet receiver that enables the coach to relay plays to the field.
“The guy’s just even, calm,” Morris said. “Nothing’s going to bother him.”
General manager Les Snead likes the roster the Rams have assembled but admits that doesn’t matter much until the players hit the field.
Said Ramsey: “We’ve seen his growth since he stepped on the field here. ... I got a little say-so and I lead in my own way, but he challenges me even to be better.”
Fuller is charged with solidifying the back end of a defense that has changed personnel since a 32-18 NFC divisional-round playoff defeat to the Green Bay Packers.
The Rams, under former coordinator Brandon Staley, ranked among the NFL’s best last season. After the Chargers hired Staley as coach, McVay brought in Morris, the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator.
Morris, 45, is expected to employ a scheme similar to the one Staley installed, which features multiple defensive backs. But he said he did not feel pressure to duplicate the statistical success of last season’s defense.
“Whatever it takes to go out there and compete and to win and do all the things that we want to do at a high level is what I’m more interested in,” Morris said. “When you look back on those things, and I’m old enough to sit around and not be coaching anymore, then maybe we’ll talk about those things and have some pride about them.
“But right now, I just want these guys to go out there and compete at the highest level, at the best level they can.”
Donald, a three-time defensive player of the year, is entering his eighth season. Last year he had 13½ sacks, increasing his career total to 85½.
Donald, 30, appears fully recovered from the rib injury that slowed him in a wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks and the season-ending loss to the Packers.
This will be the first season Donald plays without lineman Michael Brockers by his side. Brockers was traded to the Detroit Lions after nine seasons with the Rams. He was a valuable player on the field and, perhaps, an even more important leader and locker room presence.
“We got a group text. We FaceTime a lot,” Donald said. “After the first [training camp] practice in Irvine, I texted him. I said, ‘I miss you, man,’ because he’s been with me since I’ve been in the league; now he’s gone.
“But it’s just a part of the business.”
A’Shawn Robinson appeared on track to replace Brockers. He had knee surgery and McVay said the lineman was on track to be available for the opener, but whether he plays is questionable. That means rookie Bobby Brown III could play an important role on a line that also includes nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day.
Inside linebackers Kenny Young and Troy Reeder are expected to start, with Travin Howard and rookie Ernest Jones rotating in.
The Rams re-signed edge rusher Leonard Floyd after he amassed a career-best 10½ sacks last season. Justin Hollins, second-year pro Terrell Lewis and rookie Chris Garrett are other outside linebackers.
For the second year in a row, Ramsey is expected to be deployed from multiple spots in coverage and occasionally as a pass-rusher. The two-time All-Pro is regarded as one of the top shutdown cornerbacks.
The Rams might have Super Bowl aspirations, but they have many players stepping into new roles who must deliver if their dream is to come true.
But he can do more, Morris said.
“Every once in a while, you want to go get in the mix and get a little dirty and get your hands in there and be able to do some good things,” Morris said. “He’s that type of player.”
Darious Williams also will start at cornerback. David Long and perhaps versatile second-year pro Terrell Burgess will play slot cornerback.
Third-year pro Taylor Rapp is expected to start at safety with Fuller, and Nick Scott and Burgess could play in rotation.
“It’s a new team, new defense, some new guys, new faces in different spots,” Ramsey said, adding “We ain’t going to think about the past. We just going to rock out with where we at right now.”
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