The theme of Tuesday’s practice was defense. The Rams are looking to build on a defense that was top-10 in total defense last season and looking for the front-seven to help lead the way again. The defensive unit is looking to take another step forward and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be the guy to see that it happens. The last two seasons under Williams the Rams defense showed significant progress and he is hoping for the positive progress to continue this season.
“The biggest thing is that when we stay healthy…” Williams said. “The thing we’ve done the best around here is that we’ve had to battle lots of things with injuries, with losses of players, and that type of stuff; playing a lot of snaps, because we’ve struggled scoring and stuff. So what we’ve done is we’ve had to play a lot of snaps, and those guys have done a great job of doing whatever it takes to play good defense. So I’ve been real proud of that. Plus, we’ve played a lot of people. So we have some experience here that needs to step up and get ready to take the next step.
“We have a lot of different philosophies that we go by. Everybody has X’s and O’s. But what’s the culture, you go back creating? Coach Fisher has a good culture, and that’s one of the things I think I do best, on culture. And then changing the X’s and O’s to fit the players that are fitting into that. We’re doing that same thing here. We have a chance to be very fast on defense. We’ve got to stay healthy. And we’ve done a good job on the preseason games on who we’ve held out, who we’ve tried to play, who we’ve limited reps. We’ve not done any game planning at all, because to be quite truthful, I need to see some of these new, young players play.
“Practices are so much different now in the NFL and training camp, with the non-contact that you have; the ways with not very many padded practices. So now you get a chance to get them into a game, especially some of these young college guys coming in as rookies. And even some of the veteran guys that we sign free agents that came from other teams, I’m not seeing them under duress, I’m not seeing battle in the game, so it’s been very good. And I think the second half of all the games that these young guys have played have been very good. The things that have happened in the first half in a couple of these games have been very good correctable things that these guys have grown from. So far, so good.
“Now when they take the next step this week, it’ll be interesting to see these guys play. I have a lot of respect for (Broncos Head Coach) Gary Kubiak and the way he coaches offense, and the way that staff puts things together. I really like their defense, too. I know (Broncos Defensive Coordinator) Wade (Philips) and all those guys as a lot of friends on that staff in the coaching profession. But, when we’re playing in the game, none of us are friends. We’re playing until the game is over.”
Health is going to be a very important factor for the Rams this coming season, especially on defense. They’re struggling with keeping guys healthy and waiting for players to recover from last season’s injuries. Star defensive end Robert Quinn will play a very important role this coming season once he fully recovers from back surgery that sidelined him for the rest of the 2015 season. If Quinn can return and stay healthy then that will only strengthen the defense. Gregg Williams provided an update on Quinn’s rehab.
“He’s done very well.” Williams said “And again, one of the biggest things you have to do with a competitor like him is hold him back. If we didn’t have the problem of holding him back, we have the wrong guy. He has pushed so hard and done so well and we’ve done a very good job, with (Director of Sports Medicine and Performance) Reggie (Scott) and the training room and our doctors and our head coach and our D-line coach Mike Waufle on how we have brought him along. He has gotten better every single day.
“You guys are going to see a few things, but I don’t need to see a whole ton of reps of him. I need to see him play on gameday in a regular season. I’ve been through a lot of games with him, I see him in practice every day. He’ll got some limited reps, but not looking to get a lot of banging around because I want to see him banging around come Monday Night Football against San Francisco.”
The defense will also be looking for Mark Barron to continue his stellar play at outside linebacker. Barron was moved from safety to linebacker after Alec Olgetree was sidelined with a broken leg. The results turned out to be positive as Barron led the Rams in tackles with 116 in 2015. This year will be his first full season at the linebacker position as Olgetree shifts to the middle. Williams addressed Barron’s first full season as a linebacker.
“Light years (ahead of where he was).” Williams said. “What’s so much fun to see is how much he has grasped. Last year, the biggest thing we wanted to do as a staff is not overload him, not slow him down. In fact, we talked as a staff, and I know the staff got irritated with him, I told the staff ‘don’t coach him. Unless he asks a question, let him alone – and then when he asks a question, that’s what he needs to know to figure it out.’
“Now, this year, we’ve started from day one, scratch one, building him back up through there and the light has really clicked on for him. He’s one of the fastest linebackers in the National Football League, he’ll be even better this year. We’ve got to keep him healthy; we’re doing a few special things with him to keep him more healthy and how we’re playing him behind the ball. I really can’t wait to see he and (LB Alec) Ogletree play together. You guys are going to see a pretty good, fast pair of backers doing things.”
Overall the Rams defense has a lot of potential to be the best defense in the NFL. Gregg Williams and head coach Jeff Fisher will need a few key guys to get healthy and some chips to fall in their favor. At the end of the day the Rams defense should be a special group to watch.
You can follow Matthew Lowry on Twitter @MattALowry