Last year, especially when fan panic was at an all-time high there was a criticism levied at much maligned and weekly unemployed defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, that Jalen Ramsey needs to be a lockdown corner. This came into play when they played a team that had a superstar receiver and like John McClane or Snake Plissken, he was the only man who could stop them. That wound up not being entirely true last year and it remains untrue this year.
Ramsey occupies a unique role first implemented under Brandon Staley in that he doesn’t play a traditional corner role but a STAR. The STAR role where he’d move around the field and take away the offense’s ability to not go his direction because Ramsey could be anywhere on the field even on run plays where he’d routinely make incredible tackles in the backfield. Now, going into this off-season there was a little bit of angst (when is there not?) as to what the corner depth would look like.
There were moments where fans were foaming at the mouth like Homer after eating decades-old baking soda, for the team to sign Tyrann Mathieu. That didn’t come to pass as he opted to go to New Orleans with Huell so the speculation continued.
Perhaps the Rams would take a shot at Stephon Gilmore (nope he went to Indy for the shrimp cocktail), Charvarius Ward (nope went to San Francisco for the Rice-a-Roni), and J.C. Jackson (technically in LA for the pizza?), but despite their reputation, the Rams didn’t go for the big name. Via the draft, the Rams restocked the cupboard at the corner position with youth AND brought in a familiar face to take the pressure off of Ramsey and give their LONESTAR his BARF.
Welcome, Home Troy!
The Rams did make a trade but it wasn’t for a marquee name but an old friend in Troy Hill who had left last season for Cleveland in free agency. When he was last in LA he wasn’t always greeted warmly and many fans volunteered to take him to the airport. That said, he became a leader in the Cleveland defense (along with the dearly departed John Johnson) tallying 48 tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection.
The numbers don’t immediately scream STAR position but he did appear to play better than he did during his first tour of duty in LA and given that he was traded for a 5th-round pick he admitted he’s coming in with a chip the size of the LACMA rock on his shoulder.
He’s familiar with the defense already and if the Rams can utilize not one but TWO players in the STAR role it not only takes the pressure off Ramsey but it makes life easier for the younger corners as well as provide rotational flexibility that extends to the safety spot. Hill and Ramsey can have autonomy and depending on the matchup they can play around with their safeties and decrease the opportunity for the offense to exploit a mismatch.
Last year, while David Long and Darious Williams (now in Jacksonville) were effective there were moments where offenses were able to take their lunch money. The Rams team as a whole is all about having as much flexibility as possible which is a secret to their success. Sure, they have a ton of stars at the top of the call sheet but they’ve also done a terrific job at finding supporting players on the margins who make those players better. Troy Hill‘s presence makes Ramsey even better than he already is and this is a guy who played the entire season with messed-up shoulders and still shut down receivers.
Much like the safety position, the Rams devoted off-season resources to rebuilding their depth at the corner spot. There wasn’t an Eric Weddle-style event to motivate this but a cap one. They knew that Darious Williams was likely a goner and David Long was both the new scapegoat and a 2023 cap casualty so they need to go to the draft.
Last year they found a young corner on an erotic journey from Milan to Minsk in Robert Rochell (Rochelle), and before he went on IR towards the end of the season he looked like a future stud. He compiled 14 tackles, 4 pass deflections, a fumble recovery, and a pick. Not bad for a fourth-round pick. Thus far in camp, he’s demonstrated growth in his second year and that bodes well long term when he’ll likely take over for David Long next year.
In this year’s draft, they found two potential diamonds in the rough that have already turned heads at camp. Their fourth-round pick Decobie Durant and sixth-round pick Derion Kendrick have not only impressed coaches but impressed Ramsey himself. Obviously, the vets should be gassing up their younger counterparts, and training camp buzz is as reliable as ComicCon buzz (see “Jonah Hex”), but how he gassed them up spoke volumes.
Of Durant and Kendrick Ramsey stated, “The rookies are ballers, honestly,” Ramsey said. “They’re doing their thing. This will probably be one of the deepest secondaries I’ve been a part of, as far as depth-wise, the amount of people that can actually play on Sundays for us.” He would go on to add “And then on top of that, they’re so smart,” he said. “They’re way ahead of where I was as a rookie as far as their knowledge of the game and picking up the playbook. So they’ve been impressive so far.”
To quote Nic Cage “That’s high praise”.
What’s extra intriguing about Kendrick specifically is he might be a major steal. After all, he was on two title teams at Clemson and Georgia respectfully, so he’s used to being in a winning culture, and if not for some unfortunate disciplinary issues his draft stock would’ve been much higher.
Assuming he’s got a better head on his shoulders he could be a star corner alongside Ramsey and even take over for him one day. If Kendrick, Durant, and Rochelle blossom in the next two years the Rams’ secondary is in tremendous shape going forward.
Jalen Ramsey is a singular talent but he no longer has to bear the brunt of being a singular entity. The Rams understand that star players can’t succeed without help at least not long-term. Troy Hill is acting as a bridge that can also play the Ramsey role so he can be utilized either as a shutdown corner or to cause chaos elsewhere.
The young corners on the roster all have their own playmaking ability and with a year or two under their belts, they could be the future at the position as Ramsey gets older. Once again the Rams have taken a position of weakness and immediately set it up for success in the future and remain competitive long after their stars fade.