THOUSAND OAKS — Samson Ebukam dominated a special-teams drill on the fourth day of training camp. Then, in a moment that required little interpretation, Ebukam reached for the back of his leg.
“It was the first day of pads,” Ebukam said. “I was like, ‘Come on, man, I’m trying to prove myself.’”
Ebukam, a linebacker drafted by the Rams out of Eastern Washington in the fourth round this year, missed most of camp with that strained hamstring. Slowly but steadily, Ebukam has showed himself worthy of playing time, first on special teams and then on defense, and now his big moment has arrived.
Starting linebacker Connor Barwin broke a bone in his forearm last week, so Ebukam is expected to start his first NFL regular-season game Sunday when the Rams play the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ebukam said. “Everything that has happened to bring me to this point, it’s all God’s plan. I really hate seeing any of my teammates get injured, especially the way he did, but he’s done a great job of leading me to where I am today.”
Ebukam increasingly has given the Rams reason to trust him. Last week, after Barwin hurt his arm late in the first half against New Orleans, Ebukam stepped in. He sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the second half, and the Saints scored only 10 second-half points in the Rams’ 26-20 victory.
Ebukam started this season as a backup who played approximately 20 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps, but he had a breakthrough three weeks ago against Houston, when he crushed Houston quarterback Tom Savage for a sack and a forced fumble.
Now the Rams are confident that Ebukam, who played 23 of 57 snaps last week while he continued his role as a valuable special-teams player, is ready for an even bigger role.
“He has played well, rookie-wise, for the time he has been in there,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said after Thursday’s practice at Cal Lutheran. “I think he will come in and do a good job for us. He has worked hard. He’s a smart kid and he’s got a world of talent.
“He’s got some talent and I think he’s ready to go. He told me he was nervous. I said, ‘Are you nervous?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah, I’m nervous.’ I said, ‘Well, you better be.’ He’s got all the energy.”
The Rams took something of a chance on Ebukam when they drafted him in the middle of the fourth round. Ebukam, a team captain at small-school power Eastern Washington, received a fifth-round…