THOUSAND OAKS — When the Rams signed Leonard Floyd in April, people who can count to three were quick to scorn the acquisition. Three is how many sacks Floyd had last season with the Chicago Bears. On the surface, that’s poor production for the top linebacker in his draft class.
One website, the oft-quoted Pro Football Focus, said getting Floyd was the Rams’ worst move of the 2020 free-agency period.
So Floyd would be entitled to express satisfaction in this fun fact: Of all of the Rams’ signings and draft choices on defense and offense this year, he’s the only one who looks certain to start in the team’s season-opening game against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on Sept. 13.
Floyd, who was let go by the Bears, plans to make the point not with words but with actions — and better numbers.
“I’m very confident,” Floyd, who turns 28 on Sept. 8, said of his and his new Rams teammates’ ability to get sacks this season. “We’ll just take it one day at a time, execute our game plan, and whatever happens, happens.”
He shows that confidence when he’s asked what he brings to the Rams’ defense, where he’s being asked to replace outside linebacker Dante Fowler, whose 11 1/2 sacks ranked ninth in the league.
“I think I bring versatility,” Floyd said. “(I’m) a guy that can do anything the defense needs me to do. Set the edge against the run, rush the passer, and help out in coverage.”
And he has an explanation for his low numbers in Chicago, which drafted him ninth overall in 2016 out of Georgia, and then saw his NFL sack totals slide from 7 to 4 1/2 to 4 to 3 over four seasons.
“There’s a lot of times when I’ve been very close to making that extra play for the team,” Floyd said Tuesday in a video conference with reporters. “I feel like, here in L.A., I’m going to get there. Different team, different players on the defense with me. And also I’ve got to have faith.”
Along with new teammates, Floyd has a familiar coach in new Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, the Bears’ outside linebackers coach in 2017-18.
It was under Staley that Floyd had his best NFL season in 2018. That’s one reason the Rams were quick to roll the dice on Floyd after Fowler left for the Atlanta Falcons. The Rams signed Floyd to a one-year, $10 million contract; they then got a young edge rusher, Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, in the third round of the draft.
Rams coach Sean McVay knows more than the stat-watchers.
“He’s a guy that’s always been disruptive (to an offense), and I think in a lot of instances the numbers aren’t indicative of the kind of impact that (he) can have on the game, especially when you’re talking about a versatile playmaker like him,” McVay said Monday, calling Floyd one of the “bright spots” in training camp.
Said Staley: “We are excited for him to be able to take a step forward and really get a chance to show what he can do.”
With Samson Ebukam at the other outside linebacker spot, after the Rams released Clay Matthews, Floyd will combine with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the pass rush.
Those new teammates say they notice his full-tilt approach to practice, his quickness off the line and his long strides.
“The guy has a motor out of this world,” Rams defensive end Michael Brockers said. “Even AD (Donald) told me the other day, ‘Man, I love (defending against the) running game with him because he is off that ball.’ “
“He a big body, and he chews up yards when he runs,” said Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein, who has gone up against the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Floyd in practice.
Floyd faced the Rams twice as a Chicago Bear. He had no sacks, but he was credited with a hit on the quarterback in each game. The quarterback, Jared Goff, seems to remember.
Said Goff in August: “(It) has been fun to see him on my own team.”
Linebacker Travin Howard has a torn meniscus, needs surgery and is out for the season, McVay said Tuesday. It’s not a shock, based on what the coach had been saying about Howard’s injury since Saturday. Howard was competing with Troy Reeder, Micah Kiser and Kenny Young for a leading role at inside linebacker. McVay said the Rams don’t plan to look outside the team for help at the position that was weakened when Cory Littleton signed with the Raiders. “It’s really unfortunate for a guy that’s put in a lot of work, put himself in position to be a huge impact player for us,” McVay said of Howard, a 2018 seventh-round draft pick from TCU who played mostly on special teams last year. …
Safety Taylor Rapp (knee) practiced Tuesday for the first time in at least two weeks. Outside linebackers Floyd and Lewis were on the sidelines and not in practice, and Floyd said it was a scheduled rest day for him. Running back Darrell Henderson (hamstring) continued to sit out, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp (leg soreness) was held out as a precaution. Tackle Rob Havenstein walked off the field with a trainer late in practice; he returned but didn’t go back in. McVay, who fields questions about injuries, was available to reporters only before practice Tuesday. …
Havenstein dealt with injuries all last season, and missed the last seven games. He said Monday he had surgery to clean up a knee, and sounded upbeat and set for a good year. McVay said of the sixth-year pro: “I know that he attacked the offseason the right way, he’s feeling healthy, he looks like the guy that has been a top-tier, starting tackle in this league.”