THOUSAND OAKS — A year ago when the Rams lined up on defense, nine-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner had the headset in his helmet and relayed play calls to his teammates. Behind him, three-time All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey called out to teammates to let them know which side of the field he would be lining up on at the star position.
Wagner and Ramsey have since left Los Angeles, headliners for the exodus of veteran players the Rams allowed to depart during the offseason.
In their places Sunday when the Rams take on Wagner and the Seattle Seahawks to open the 2023 campaign will be third-year linebacker Ernest Jones and second-year corner Cobie Durant, two of the players spearheading the youth movement that will define the Rams’ season.
From Jones and Durant to Jordan Fuller and Puka Nacua to Steve Avila and Byron Young, players across the board are being asked to do more than they have in the past. But they’re doing so with a renewed bond and belief.
“It’s been the best it’s been since I’ve been here. Even the Super Bowl year,” Jones said. “Confidence, the energy here, the vibe here, the togetherness of the team. Everything is just a lot better.”
After practice Thursday, several players insisted the locker room televisions be changed from the U.S. Open to the NFL’s opening game between Kansas City and Detroit.
Players left their lockers to gather, reacting to plays and talking about schematics.
“Guys wanting to stay around, talk to each other, not always just leaving at the first sight,” Jones said. “The way that we play with each other and how we always hype each other up. It’s almost like a feel, like you definitely feel the difference this year from the past few years.”
“I think it’s organic just based on the feel for the team. This team is energizing,” head coach Sean McVay added. “It’s not something that I can say as much as just something you can feel, the way they support each other, the way that they bring an energy and an edge to practice every single day. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun working with them.”
With the new energy comes new responsibilities. Jones is now the Rams’ “green dot” with the ear piece connecting him to defensive coordinator Raheem Morris for pre-snap calls.
It’s a role Jones filled sparingly as a rookie, but now is his responsibility alone, signaling to him that he can’t come off the field.
“I’ve always wanted to be the green dot guy, I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life. So finally it’s my moment to let it all go,” Jones said. “It’d be a big altercation [if someone else tried to take it]. But I’ve worked myself to this point, and I know I can handle it.”
It’s similar for Durant, though rather than get a call from the sideline, at star he has to make a read at the line of scrimmage and then communicate that to his teammates prior to the snap.
“It’s improved a whole lot, more comfortable,” Durant said. “I learned a lot from [defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant], just carrying over and elevating me. I’m not sleeping on playing on the outside, but just getting that opportunity to play both ways, both slot and outside corner, just taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Just as Avila will have to work with his linemates to make pre-snap reads, just like Tutu Atwell and Nacua will have to be on the same page as quarterback Matthew Stafford, just as many young players will adjust to expanded or new roles Sunday, and this year as a whole.
But after navigating a frustrating 2022, the young Rams are prepared to turn the page to 2023.
“Everybody came back ready to work and right our wrongs from last year. So you definitely can feel the eagerness,” Jones said. “Everybody’s ready to go show the hard work we’ve been putting in the last few months.”
RAMS at SEAHAWKS
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lumen Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
TV/Radio: FOX (Ch. 11)/710 AM; 93.1 FM; 1330 AM (Spanish); Sirius 384, 226
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