Rams will focus on developing younger players rest of season

Rookie safety Quentin Lake showed the Rams coaches his potential on special teams.

But something other than performance and athletic ability earned the former UCLA standout a chance on defense.

During last Monday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, which left safety Taylor Rapp out for a couple of games, the Rams needed an additional defenseman for a specific package.

Lake had never played the position. He had never practiced.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris called Lake anyway, citing his study habits.

“‘Have you seen his notebook?'” Morris said, telling defense coach Chris Shula, “‘Put him in.'”

Lake played two snaps. And enjoyed them.

“For me, at least, the message was to always stay ready, no matter the circumstances,” said Lake, who was sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury. “You never know when the opportunity will come.”

Lake is among several young players who could play a bigger role against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on Sunday and in the last two games against the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.

The loss to the Packers eliminated the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams from playoff contention and, combined with injuries or roster changes at almost every position, opened the door for younger players to gain experience.

This is especially true for defence.

Edge rusher Michael Hoecht saw his part in the last four games with defenders Bobby Brown III, Earnest Brown IV, safety Russ Yeast and now maybe Lake playing more.

“They define their roles in the future, and if we’re relevant when it matters,” Morris said.

Linebacker Bobby Wagner said, “Nobody really ever learns until they’re on fire.”

Hoecht signed with the Rams in 2020 as an undrafted free agent defensive lineman. He’s played mostly on special teams and as a rotation player for last season and most of this season. Needing a spark and production on Leonard Floyd, Hoecht was moved to outside linebacker.

He has two sacks and a forced fumble.

“He’s going to make some mistakes but he’s shown great promise,” said Morris. “I think we’ve seen him hit the quarterback more times than anyone on our team other than Flo and Bobby Wagner in the last three weeks.”

Bobby Brown III, a 2021 fourth-round draft pick in 2021, was sidelined six games to open the season while being suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. With star defenseman Aaron Donald and Marquise Copeland sidelined with ankle injuries, Brown made his first start against the Packers and played a career-high 45 snaps.

His goal in the last three games?

“I just want to show that I can play ball,” he said, “and I’m a playmaker.”

Earnest Brown IV, a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, played the Las Vegas Raiders for the first time on Dec. 8. He played 11 defensive snaps against the Packers.

His time on the practice team proved valuable, he said.

“When you’re not playing, you’re thinking, ‘Am I good enough?'” he said. “But you keep working on your craft, working on your weaknesses and just improving as a player and I feel like I’ve done it.”

Yeast, a 2022 seventh-round pick, has played 10+ defensive snaps in three of their last five games.

On Monday, he faced Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s most valuable player. On Sunday, he faces Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, who, like Rodgers, is a Super Bowl champion.

Young players must first get past the CVs of star opponents.

“Once you’re out there, it’s just who you’re up against,” Yeast said. “But before that, I’d be lying if I said a little bit of that didn’t happen. As a rookie coming in and experiencing everything for the first time, it’s only natural for that to happen.

“But you have to realize that you’re on this stage and you’re here for a reason and you’re playing against them for a reason too.”

Yeast and Lake have shown potential, said star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“Russ plays fearlessly, which is something we all like in the DB space,” Ramsey said. “Lake has the ability to do all of that and make a lot of plays. … They’ve prepared each week as if they were the starters so they know when their opportunities come that we can trust and believe they’ll be ready.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-12-24/los-angeles-rams-denver-broncos-nfl-game-preview Rams will focus on developing younger players rest of season

Emma Bowman

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