Sun, 20 Sep 2020

Analysis: Previewing the position battle at inside linebacker

Los Angeles Rams
12 Aug 2020, 18:24 GMT+10

Stu Jackson

As Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union gets underway, theRams.com will be previewing four key position battles to watch. The series' first installment breaks down the competition at inside linebacker.

Over the last two years, the Rams defense counted on Cory Littleton to help guide the inside linebackers, dependable when asked to drop back into pass coverage and reliable as a tackler. He was also one of the most experienced, starting in every regular season game during that span.

Now, with Littleton joining the Las Vegas Raiders via free agency this offseason, it's an "open competition" for the starting roles within the position group, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said in May.

Here's a look at the candidates on Los Angeles' current roster, listed in alphabetical order.

Travin Howard

Experience: Two seasons.

Notes: After spending his 2018 rookie season on injured reserve due to an ankle injury sustained in training camp, the TCU product bounced back by playing all 16 games in 2019. He performed well late in the season especially, making 13 of his 19 total tackles and all three of his pass breakups over the final five weeks.

Clay Johnston

Experience: Rookie.

Notes: Had he not suffered a knee injury midway through his senior season at Baylor, Johnston likely would've been selected higher than 234th overall in the seventh round. Falling to Los Angeles at that point in the draft made him a steal of pick, according to Rams Senior Personnel Advisor Taylor Morton. Still, Johnson was productive when healthy - he made 58 tackles, eight for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception and five pass breakups in six games to earn All-Big 12 Second Team honors, and received the same recognition after leading Baylor with 99 tackles in 2018.

Micah Kiser

Experience: Two seasons.

Notes: According to the Rams' first unofficial depth chart of the 2019 season, Kiser was projected to start alongside Littleton, but that opportunity never materialized because of Kiser's season-ending pectoral injury in Los Angeles' preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. Now healthy, he'll get another chance to prove he can be a starter.

Bryan London II

Experience: Rookie.

Notes: A four-year starter at Texas State, London's 459 career tackles rank 20th-most in FBS history. He is listed as a candidate because his college film shows him playing inside linebacker at times, but he is as a generic linebacker on the Rams' roster.

Troy Reeder

Experience: One season.

Notes: Reeder played in all 16 games as a rookie, making eight starts and finishing with 52 total tackles. Making his first career start Week 5 at Seattle, he made a team-high 13 total tackles, a strong enough performance to earn him those other seven starting opportunities throughout the remainder of the 2019 season. His eight NFL starts are most of any inside linebacker currently on the roster.

Christian Rozeboom

Experience: Rookie.

Notes: Rozeboom led South Dakota in tackles and earned first-team Missouri Valley Football Conference honors in each of his four years with the program, finishing as the school's record-holder for career tackles with 475. He was a consensus FCS All-American selection in 2019.

Kenny Young

Experience: Two seasons.

Notes: Acquired in a trade with the Ravens last October, Young is the only other inside linebacker on the Rams roster with NFL starting experience, getting six across 21 games in Baltimore. He played a total of 14 games last season, five with the Ravens and nine with the Rams, making 17 total tackles.

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