Rams players adjusting to rule changes on kickoffs

Wave Wire Services

THOUSAND OAKS — The Los Angeles Rams are adjusting to new players and new rules every day in spring practices at California Lutheran University.

The Rams top two draft picks were defensive players from Florida State. They are expected to make significant contributions after All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, retired in the offseason.

Jared Verse was selected by the Rams in the first round. Braden Fiske was selected in the second round. Rams coaches have high expectations for both and they are expected to contribute to the pass rush and solidify the defense against opposing teams’ running games.

In addition to installing new defensive players into the Rams system, the NFL is introducing new kickoff rules this season. The Rams have two rookie kickers in spring practices, one who played at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita and at College of the Canyons in Valencia.

The Rams are taking a second look at Tanner Brown, who finished his college career at Oklahoma State. He was with the team through spring practices and the preseason last year, but was cut before the season started. He is competing with rookie Joshua Karty, who the Rams selected in the sixth round out of Stanford in the draft.

Both kickers are not only working on making field goals and extra points on a consistent basis, but learning the new kickoff rules in the NFL.

The new rules are supposed to eliminate automatic touchbacks and create more action on kickoffs. The receiving teams are supposed to return every kick and the kicking team will be penalized for kicking off into the end zone or out of bounds.

Rams coach Sean McVay said the rookies on the team are learning the new rules and learning how to adjust to their new teammates and coaches.

“We’re throwing a bunch of information at these rookies, some of these rookies that we’re looking at to be big time contributors,” McVay said at practice June 4. “They got to be able to earn those roles, but you continue to be able to educate them. We try to give them a good guidance. If we got to pull them back, if that’s the biggest problem, we’ll take that.”

Fiske is one of those players McVay expects to make contributions. He is part of what McVay calls a deep defensive line, and Fiske said he likes the pace of practice and is making the most of his chances.

“That’s the best thing about practice, it moves fast and you get things done,” Fiske said. “You got to make the most of your reps you get because they’re limited. It moves fast, but you just got to pick up and keep going.”

Fiske and Verse were teammates at Florida State. Verse played outside linebacker, but one of his strengths is the ability to rush the quarterback. McVay likes the progress the new defensive players are making but he sees room for improvement.

“I think we’ve had two really good days. We still have too many things on both sides of the ball we need to clean up before the snap,” McVay said. “We don’t want to beat ourselves. They have the right kind of energy.”

The kickers are competing in a different way. The coaches are adjusting to the new kickoff rules and the kickers are learning how to make changes to the strategies the coaches want to execute. The new rules are still a work in progress, and it adds to the challenge.

“That’s really what we’re looking for developing some basic fundamentals, working through some concepts and some schemes,” Rams special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn said.

“There are so many intricacies to the rules. There are some things that aren’t even set yet. There will be some maneuverability for us. We’ll figure it out.”

Brown, who played three preseason games for the Rams last year, is looking for ways to improve his skills. He lost the job last season in training camp to Brett Maher, who was perfect in eight games from inside 40 yards but only 10 of 16 outside the 40 yard line. 

Maher was replaced by Lucas Havrisik for the last nine games. Havrisik also was perfect inside 40 yards, but was only 4 of 9 outside the 40. Neither is in camp this summer.  

Accuracy and consistency are not only factors on field goals and extra points now, it is a skill kickers need on kickoffs, too. Brown said he is trying to focus on his abilities and not about how the new rules will affect the league.

“I’m just trying to stay myself, not worry about anyone else,” Brown said. “I just gotta make my kicks, that’s it. Make my kicks. Anything can happen, but they’re not going to cut someone who doesn’t miss. That’s mainly what I’m focusing on right now.’”

McVay said his team has plenty of room to grow, but he likes what he sees so far.

“Every day you want to take steps in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve continued to increase some of the installations, challenging each other.”

The Rams are conducting the last three days of their offseason organized team practice workouts. The mandatory minicap is June 11-13 and formal summer camp starts July 29.

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