THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Thanks to two injures and a couple of major trades, the Los Angeles Rams will be without three regular starters in their secondary this weekend in Atlanta.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips realizes that’s not the ideal way to face Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Matt Ryan and the NFL’s second-most prolific passing game.
Not even if one of those new starters turns out to be Jalen Ramsey, who is optimistic he will make his Rams debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“(The Falcons) have probably the top passing offense in the league, so it would be a challenge whether we had all the same people or different ones,” Phillips said Thursday. “It’s a challenge for whoever you have out there.”
The Rams’ defense is spending the week in frantic preparation for its new lineup against the Falcons. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters was traded on Tuesday, while safety John Johnson and cornerback Aqib Talib went on injured reserve earlier this week.
Ramsey went through his first full practice at the Rams’ training complex Thursday, two days after the Rams acquired him from Jacksonville in an even bolder trade. Wearing the No. 20 jersey he got from new teammate Troy Hill, Ramsey looked loose and happy during the workout.
“We’re going to do what’s smart for myself and the team, but I hope (to play Sunday), Ramsey said. “I hope I can go contribute to a win, somehow, some way, whether it’s limited or whatever, or a couple of plays. It doesn’t matter.”
After requesting a trade last month, Ramsey missed the Jaguars’ last three games with a back injury. Although he must learn the Rams’ defense and get back into full game shape before he’ll feel comfortable with his new team, Ramsey thinks he is on his way.
Ramsey said the defensive system “fits me very well,” and he called Phillips “a legend” in their first meeting.
“I love challenges like that,” Ramsey said of the Falcons. “They’ve got elite receivers, Julio especially, arguably one of the best receivers in the league. Definitely I love that challenge, and if I’m able to perform well, I would like to be out there.”
The only remaining regular starter in the Rams’ secondary is safety Eric Weddle, who joined the defending NFC champions in the offseason. The veteran actually sounds eager for the challenge facing the Rams’ suddenly inexperienced secondary.
“That’s why you have me, quite honestly,” Weddle said. “I’ve been through this many a time. Revolving door, whether it’s safeties, corners, it’s my job to get everyone on the same page and play at a high level. There’s no excuses in this league, and it’s my job to get those guys going.”
But there’s no denying the fact that the Rams must figure out how to win without two of their three busiest defensive players this season. Only linebacker Cory Littleton has taken more defensive snaps than Peters or Johnson for Los Angeles, while Talib is seventh despite sitting out last week with the rib injury that now threatens his season.
Hill is almost certain to start at cornerback for the Rams. If Ramsey doesn’t play extensively, the Rams are expecting to give significant playing time to Darious Williams, a second-year pro who hasn’t played a defensive snap this season and has one career tackle.
The coaching staff is high on Williams, who went undrafted in 2018 after playing two seasons at UAB. Those two seasons were in 2014 and 2017, separated by two years of training without games after the school dropped football and before the program was reinstated.
The Rams claimed Williams off waivers last October and kept him on the roster this season, but he played only four snaps on defense last season and none in six games this year.
There weren’t many snaps available at cornerback recently with Peters and Talib playing extensively along with Nickell Robey-Coleman, one of the NFL’s most effective nickel backs against slot receivers. Snaps are suddenly in abundance, but the Rams aren’t shaken by the upheaval.
“We’re just going to hold strong,” Robey-Coleman said. “We’re going to fight and battle with the guys that we’ve got. Having Jalen on the defense now, we don’t have to worry about one half of the field, I know for sure. That made everybody’s job a little easier.”
NOTES: Ramsey was listed as a full participant in practice, while RB Todd Gurley’s participation was limited. Coach Sean McVay is optimistic Gurley will play after missing last week’s game. … Gurley’s backup, Malcolm Brown, missed his second straight practice with an ankle injury. McVay hasn’t ruled out Brown for Sunday, noting that “sometimes these things end up turning the corner pretty quickly, so we’ll use our time on this.”
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