IRVINE — Five days into Rams training camp, focus turned to a former undrafted free agent and a sixth-round pick, neither of whom has played an NFL game. At least not yet.
Dominique Easley, expected to start at defensive end, tore his ACL during Tuesday’s practice and is lost for the season. Considering the Rams don’t know when star end Aaron Donald, who is negotiating a new contract, will end his holdout and report to camp, Easley’s injury is a major blow.
Michael Brockers, at nose tackle, is the last starter standing up front in the Rams’ new 3-4 defense. A week ago, defensive line looked to be a strength for the Rams, but now they’re giving first-team reps to Louis Trinca-Pasat, a recent undrafted free agent who hasn’t yet cracked a 53-man roster. Tanzel Smart, a sixth-round pick this year, also is getting more work.
“There’s no worries here,” Brockers said after Wednesday’s practice at UC Irvine. “It’s football. You hate to see an important guy like that go down, and I know it’s a cliche about ‘next man up,’ but that’s the atmosphere we have around here.”
At what point, though, do the Rams feel more pressure and bend a bit in negotiations with Donald?
Donald is a three-time Pro Bowl player just entering his prime years. Easley, even though he didn’t start a game for the Rams last season, played a lot and was one of their most consistent defensive linemen.
At the moment, replacing them are Ethan Westbrooks, who has made two starts in three NFL seasons, and Trinca-Pasat, who has performed well in OTA and training-camp practices this year but who missed all of last season with a significant knee injury and has never played beyond an NFL preseason game.
In other words, those guys aren’t Donald, and it’s not even close, and while the Rams are reluctant to rip up Donald’s contract when it still has two years remaining – both at a relatively low cost – the clock is ticking toward the Sept. 10 season opener against Indianapolis, and the Rams need a strong defense.
Coach Sean McVay has remained adamant that the Rams still have good defensive-line depth and that Donald, even though he’s not with the team, still is keeping in good shape.
But at what point does that pendulum swing, and start to negatively impact the team? The Rams play their first preseason game a week from Saturday and, after that, the schedule moves quickly and the focus becomes less about learning and developing, and more about…