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Rams’ Cam Akers returns to practice, but when he plays is uncertain

Rams running back Cam Akers takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Stafford during practice.
Cam Akers takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Stafford during practice last summer before the Rams running back sustained a torn right Achilles.
(Associated Press)

Cam Akers’ season seemingly ended before it began.

Five months ago, on the eve of training camp, the Rams’ second-year running back suffered a torn right Achilles, leaving coach Sean McVay without a player that he planned to make an offensive centerpiece.

Akers is not expected to be available Sunday when the Rams (10-4) play the Minnesota Vikings (7-7) with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Akers could be available for the end of the regular season or the playoffs, McVay said Thursday after the Rams designated Akers to return to practice.

It was apparent a few months into Akers’ rehabilitation that he might return this season, McVay said during a videoconference with reporters.

“We kind of had an idea that he was really accelerating his rehab and making great progress,” McVay said. “He’s a freak.”

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Akers did not participate in a rain-soaked jog-through on Thursday, McVay said, but the Rams opened the 21-day window to evaluate Akers for a return to the active roster.

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While Akers’ exact timeline is undetermined, starting safety Jordan Fuller will return from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday, McVay said. Starting tight end Tyler Higbee remains on the list. If Higbee does not clear testing protocols, he would be eligible to return Monday, McVay said.

“We’re kind of on pins and needles every time that his test results come back,” McVay said.

The Rams have the luxury of waiting on Akers, a 2020 second-round draft pick who grew up in Mississippi and played at Florida State.

As a rookie, Akers rushed for a team-best 625 yards and two touchdowns. In a late-season victory over the New England Patriots, he rushed for a career-best 171 yards in 29 carries.

In an NFC wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in 28 carries. In the season-ending divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers, he rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown in 18 carries.

So McVay was looking forward to expanding Akers’ role this season.

After Akers’ suffered the Achilles injury in July, the Rams’ running back corps included third-year pro Darrell Henderson, seventh-round draft pick Jake Funk and several undrafted free agents.

With questions about Henderson’s durability — his first two seasons ended because of ankle injuries — the Rams traded for Sony Michel, a 2018 first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots.

After beating the Seahawks on Tuesday, the Rams on Wednesday immediately turned their attention to playing the Vikings on Sunday.

Henderson has been productive when sound, but Michel as of late has asserted himself as a starter and hard-running presence.

The addition of Akers would give McVay three backs from which to choose.

That situation would be “a good problem to have,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

“The more the merrier,” he said, adding that he worked out with Akers during the spring and has witnessed how motivated he was to return. “It’s pretty unbelievable to see him be able to do what he’s been able to do.

“It’s asking a lot of somebody, but he’s been gung-ho from the start to get back as soon as he possibly can, try to help this team out, which is an awesome thing.”

McVay said he good-naturedly gave Akers “a hard time” about a Russian gymnast who returned from an Achilles injury in three months to compete in the Olympics. Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan won a gold medal at the Tokyo Games.

The Rams will be cautious with Akers before activating him, McVay said.

“It’s going to be a progressive build,” he said, adding, “There’s still some levels to this. We want to be able to check the boxes and be smart with him.”

The Rams, tied for first place with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, have games remaining against the Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

The Rams got a break on Thursday when the Vikings placed star running back Dalvin Cook on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Cook has rushed for 1,067 yards, which ranks third in the NFL.

“I don’t want to see any guys go on the COVID list because I have a real understanding and empathy for what an annoyance this thing really is, especially if a guy is asymptomatic,” McVay said. “I don’t want to minimize the sensitivity to when guys actually get sick and things of that nature.

“But this game’s about competition. You want to be able to go against the best. He’s arguably one of the best, if not the best back in the league. … I’m hopeful that he’s OK.”


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