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2020 positional preview: Inside linebackers

Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The Los Angeles Rams’ ILBs are a difficult group to evaluate. In many ways they exist on paper, but judging by last year’s usage and the lack of urgency to upgrade the position, it almost appears that they will have a minimal role in Brandon Staley’s defensive scheme.

Last season, we seen Taylor Rapp and Marqui Christian fulfill a hybrid linebacker role to fill in the gaps. In 2020, the Rams will be without the services of Cory Littleton, so it’s expected that the Rams will use this position sparingly. Still, the Rams have some young talent that is looking to step up and contribute.

Micah Kiser

Kiser was drafted two years ago out of Virginia in the fifth round. Despite the lower round selection, Kiser was believed to be a steal. Nobody can really say otherwise at the moment since he has had little opportunity to prove himself.

Last season, the Rams were considering him as a starter along with veteran Bryce Hager. Kiser never saw the regular season as he sustained a season-ending injury. He has another opportunity this season as long as remains healthy. Kiser will certainly be a player to watch for heading into training camp.

Troy Reeder

Reeder picked up a lot of the slack when John Johnson and Bryce Hager went out with injuries last season. While he did do better than expected, he still has plenty to learn. Still, with more training and learning Brandon Staley’s new defensive scheme, it’s possible Reeder can adapt and mold into a better role.

Starting in eight games last season, Reeder earned 58 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Not bad for a player that wasn’t even certain he was going to make the roster last season. Expect Reeder to challenge for a starting role.

Clay Johnston

The rookie out of Baylor is a tackling machine that fell to the seventh round due to an injury sustained last season. While there is a lot of confidence in Johnston’s capabilities, he will need to work hard to get some playing time. Still, due to the Rams’ youth at ILB, Johnston theoretically can be placed as a starter if he’s a fast learner.

In reality, Johnston will likely contribute on special teams. Look for Staley to sneak him in the middle of the season if he develops quickly.

Travin Howard

Howard is in a similar situation as Reeder, though Reeder has had more opportunities. Howard contributed a little towards the end of the season. If he continues to develop, he might make a good rotational player or potentially start given the uncertainty at the position. As we discovered last season, depth is necessary. While the position may not be as important as it may be with other teams, it will be necessary when the position is being utilized in Staley’s scheme.

Kenny Young

The Los Angeles Rams acquired Young from the Baltimore Ravens from the Marcus Peters trade at midseason. Young didn’t contribute much at all to the position. This makes him a bit of a wild card considering the position is anything but set.

The biggest concern about Young’s game is coverage. He’s struggled at that aspect of inside linebacker, which is fine if the Rams utilize a strong cover linebacker or “hybrid-linebacker” that will take some of that responsibility away from him. Another thing to note is Young was thrown into the Rams’ defense midseason, so maybe having a full offseason (of sorts) with the team will help? Either way, competition is wide open.

UDFAs

Don’t overlook the undrafted free agents. Looking at guys like Reeder and Howard having some playing time last year proves that there can be talent found despite going undrafted. Both Christian Rozeboom and Daniel Butuli have plenty to offer to the Rams defense. While there are plenty of other players gunning for some playing time, it’s best not to rule them out. If nothing else, they can start off on the practice squad if they show enough promise.

Overall

It’s difficult to judge what the Rams exactly have in the young, inexperienced ILB corps. There are a ton of uncertainties, particularly of just how exactly Staley and the Rams plan on utilizing the position. What we can expect is plenty of creativity in terms of the types of defensive sets we see on the field. More on this with the safety and cornerback articles to come soon.

Training camp and the reduced preseason will tell us a lot more, considering they actually happen. Kiser, Howard, Reeder and Young will likely get the majority of snaps, with potentially seeing guys like Leonard Floyd, Samson Ebukam, Taylor Rapp, etc. This will certainly be a position to watch heading into training camp.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

You can follow Johnny Gomez on Twitter @Johnny5not6. Be sure to follow Rams Talk on Twitter @TalkRams.

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