THOUSAND OAKS — The more the Rams’ running game changed in the past year, the more things stayed the same.
A year ago, with Todd Gurley replaced by rookie Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, the big question going into opening night was how the coaches would divide the workload among a three-running back committee.
This week, with Akers out for the season, Brown lost to free agency and Henderson joined by recent acquisition Sony Michel and rookie Jake Funk, the question before Sunday’s opener against the Chicago Bears is similar.
“Did I answer it a year ago?” Kevin O’Connell, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, said when he was asked Thursday.
The elusive answer this time could be that Henderson is the Rams’ No. 1 running back, but that the title is tentative while Michel is getting used to the offense less than three weeks after coming over in a trade with the New England Patriots.
The real answer for fans, fantasy players and the Bears probably won’t be known until after 5:20 p.m. on Sunday at SoFi Stadium – maybe weeks after.
The coaches’ word for the top two backs’ roles is “complementary,” with Michel’s one-cut, straight-ahead running style meshing with Henderson’s.
“To be quite honest, we’re still figuring that out as we go,” O’Connell said of Michel’s exact role and the extent of Funk’s. “I think the versatility allows us to not only play to the hot hand but rely on all three of those guys in different phases, starting out with Darrell and his ability to be what we think is a feature back.”
Said Rams coach Sean McVay: “We’re still kind of working through (deciding on workloads) but feel really comfortable with Darrell leading the way. And then those other guys, (we’re) excited to see what they can do.”
In the Rams’ season-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys last September, Akers started and took the early handoffs, but Brown led the team with 79 yards and two touchdowns. Henderson was limited to three carries. That much should be different this time.
“It’s not about the carries,” Henderson insisted Thursday. “At the end of the day, everybody in our (running backs) room is capable of making plays.”
How many carries it’s not about, he’ll find out soon.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a father for the third time. Donald said the new baby, his second son, is named Aaric, a combination of his and his wife Erica Sherman’s names. Donald said of fatherhood: “That comes before anything.” … The Rams and tight end Tyler Higbee agreed to restructure his contract to save the team space under the salary cap. The agreement, reported by ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry, frees up $1.65 million by converting $2.475 million in base salary into a signing bonus for the second year of Higbee’s four-year, $29 million contract. Before this, the Rams had $44,422 in cap space, the lowest of any NFL team, according to overthecap.com. …
The Rams’ injury report upgraded defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson to “limited” practice and outside linebacker Terrell Lewis to “full” practice Thursday after both sat out Wednesday. … Outside linebacker Chris Garrett and center Coleman Shelton remained on the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday. The Rams can call up practice squad players to replace them on the active roster under rules loosened in 2020.