August 1, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Andrew Whitworth: Cam Akers can lead Rams into future

After playing 15 seasons in the NFL, Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth knows a potential leader when he sees one.

Running back Cam Akers fits the profile.

“He’s one to get excited about moving forward,” Whitworth said. “He’s going to be a guy who’s not only going to be a good football player, but I would imagine Cam Akers is going to be a leader of this football team very quickly.”

Akers, who just completed his rookie season, was a bright spot for a Rams team that finished 10-6 and advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers.

Now Akers, 21, is regarded as one of the main building blocks as coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead evaluate the roster and plot their strategy for free agency and the NFL draft.

Akers — who rushed for 846 yards and scored five touchdowns in 15 games, including the playoffs — said he was ready to be a leader.

“If that’s what the team need me to be, I’m definitely fit for the role and I’m looking forward to taking it on,” he said.

Akers established himself as a reliable and sometimes spectacular piece of an offense that otherwise performed below expectations most of the season.

McVay acknowledged his role in that performance as the play-caller.

“I’d like to think that I’m the first one to look inward,” McVay said. “I have high expectations and standards for myself and for our offense. This year was not up to par for a lot of reasons and that’s something that I’m excited about attacking, but I do still feel confident in my ability to do that at a high level.”

Moving forward, McVay already has said quarterback Jared Goff would have to compete for his job. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, who signed a $134-million extension before the 2019 season, passed for a career-low 20 touchdowns with 13 interceptions during the regular season.

Twelve days after right thumb surgery, he came off the bench in relief of injured John Wolford and led the Rams to a wild-card playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He passed for a touchdown and played without major error in the loss to the Packers.

McVay has expressed confidence in Wolford, and it remains to be seen whether the Rams will draft or trade for a quarterback, or sign one as a free agent.

Rams quarterbacks Jared Goff, left, and John Wolford might be in competition for a job next season.

(Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Whitworth’s status also must be determined. At 39, he came back from a knee injury to play in the playoffs. Whitworth is due to carry a salary-cap number of $11.2 million next season.

“I’ll sit down and collect thoughts with the family and with Sean and with the Rams and we’ll figure those things out,” he said when asked about his future. “With unfinished business, with really what I’ve had to overcome this season, I would love to go back out there and compete with this football team again. But there’s a lot of things that have to align there.”

Center Austin Blythe, receiver Josh Reynolds, tight end Gerald Everett and running back Malcolm Brown are unrestricted free agents.

Blythe is probably the priority to re-sign, especially with the Rams having drafted receiver Van Jefferson and tight end Brycen Hopkins in 2020.

The biggest question mark for the defense is who will run it.

Brandon Staley left to become coach of the Chargers after molding a defense that featured lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey into one of the NFL’s best units.

McVay is searching for Staley’s replacement, with Raheem Morris — the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator and interim coach last season — regarded as a candidate.

Under Staley, the Rams ran a hybrid 3-4 scheme that utilized multiple defensive backs and featured Ramsey lining up at multiple spots.

Regardless of the scheme installed by a new coordinator, there could be turnover at key positions.

Safety John Johnson, edge rusher Leonard Floyd and cornerback Troy Hill are unrestricted free agents, as are rotational defensive lineman Morgan Fox and linebacker Samson Ebukam.

Cornerback Darious Williams, who had a team-best four interceptions, is a restricted free agent.

In the final moments of the loss to the Packers last Saturday, Johnson said he “shed a few tears” and told teammates he loved them.

“Definitely emotional, just not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said. “Not knowing if the guys you’ve been with for four years, [if] you’re going to be with them again.

“So, I guess we just go from there and see how it goes.”