Can The Los Angeles Rams Go Death Row In 2019?

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It would certainly strike us as either odd or so him, the sight of Wade Phillips sporting dark shades and looking all street hard…or attempting to. But no, Southern Cal and rap/hip-hop enthusiasts everywhere. To my knowledge, the team has no plans to revive the record label founders Dr. Dre and Suge Knight made famous. However, with drafting two University of Washington Huskies one might ask, can the Los Angeles Rams go Death Row in 2019 and beyond? They can, if so inspired.

Can The Los Angeles Rams Go Death Row?

The 2019 NFL Draft is now done and in the books. The Rams added eight new players via the NFL draft. Two of the eight, safety Taylor Rapp and interior defensive lineman Greg Gaines, are former Washington Huskies. This is increasingly interesting and social media is starting to notice. But why?

In this case, because defensively the Huskies are known, at least regionally, as the “Death Row” defense. And make no mistake, it’s with reason. As indicated on each helmet, they are the “DAWGS” of the Pac-12. A potent defensive squad that has led their conference in points allowed the last four years and counting. Their list of accomplishments in recent years are ongoing and include:

  • Pac-12 leaders in points allowed (2015 through 2018)
  • Pac-12 leaders in defensive points scored (2015 through 2018)
  • 2nd or better (Pac-12) against the run each year since 2014 
  • 2nd (Pac-12) in sacks four of last six seasons 
  • Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year 2017 (DL Vita Vea) and 2018 (LB Ben Burr-Kirven
  • Holding opponents to 10 points or less (2015 through 2018): more than doubled total games of any other Pac-12 football team.  

The Making Of Dawg Central, California

The Los Angeles Rams already have two ex-Huskies expected to return starters on defense in Marcus Peters and Cory Littleton. The two new additions put the NFC conference champions at the top of the league in Death Row hires. The Arizona Cardinals currently have four Huskies on their roster but only three play defense. What’s more, the horned dawgs have a much better chance of filling starting roles and sooner. Conceivably on defense, there could be four starters from the University of Washington.

The Fight In The Dawg, Greg Gaines

The first thing people notice in getting to know Greg Gaines is that his arms are worryingly short. In fact, the word “stubby” instantly comes to mind and scouts have been quoted using it. After reading these numerous scattered criticisms you can find yourself buying in and fear he won’t fill Ndamukong Suh’s shoes. Fear not.

The truth is, the Los Angeles Rams don’t exactly need him to fill Suh’s kicks, they need him to absorb some of the double-teams Aaron Donald commands more effectively. Listed at 6’2″, 316lbs, Gaines is stout like Donald. He’s got natural strength like Donald but brings to the table the ability to bull rush somewhat like Suh. What’s more, he’s liable to do it more often because – unlike Suh, allegedly – he doesn’t fancy taking plays off.

Gaines stays motivated and was a fan favorite at Washington because of his tenaciousness. He’s slow off the ball and has competition in camp there, for sure. But even that could actually be a compliment at times. Opposing defenses must game plan away from Donald, first and foremost. The means – as you’ve seen all too often in 2018 alone – that teams often call plays designed to take advantage of the Rams overzealous attacks on defense. Should Gaines win a starting spot and with free agent additions, I doubt this happens as much going forward.

As a whole, Gaines should rarely get pushed off gaps being a true 2-gap DT. Having played alongside 2017 teammate Vita Vea and now possibly Aaron Donald, running backs may become dawg food. He’s probably more effective in 4-3 packages but more important, he’s a real football player. A scrapper. A junkyard dog that simply needs to be turned loose.

The Fight In The Dawg, Taylor Rapp

Rams fans are going to love this kid for years to come. With his boyish charm, his natural ability and under Eric Weddle’s wing, how can they not? This will become especially true when he solidifies himself with a few more pounds of seasoned NFL Grade A beef. He flies to the ball from any and everywhere on the field so expect the effort to be contagious.

Rapp’s three years at Washington includes 168 tackles, seven interceptions and six sacks. In 2018, he led his team in sacks and the entire Pac-12 in tackling percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. He plays the run exceptionally well and knows how to tackle. Improving consistently, his pass game is fluid with excellent pursuit and recovery. One of PFF’s highest-graded safeties, he plays all over the field at what can be considered elite level. His play recognition is also top tier and the reason he could have very few better mentors than Weddle.

One dimension I would not overlook in the progression of Taylor Rapp is his motivation.

“There’s not a lot of Asian-Americans in sports…In football there’s none,” Taylor said in a Rolling With The Rookies video installment. He went to say that it’s his mission is to be that role model Asian-American kids are inspired by. He knows what it’s like to feel the awkwardness of looking and being treated differently. This drives him going forward and the Rams and their fans stand to reap the benefits.

The End Game, Dawg

No, seriously. The end game is just that. The Rams have dawgs coming in this off-season and that’s not limited to draft selections only. Don’t be too stunned if a UDFA signing or two make the final roster at some point soon enough. What they recently lost in size and experience with starters they may have gained in determination and dawgedness (equals doggedness on ‘roids — your new word for the day).

From the safe distance of springtime, the Rams have a fair chance to excel to the next level defensively. Truth be told, it’s about time. Total team defense on Wade Phillips’ watch is 19th-ranked now in back-to-back years after becoming a top 10 unit in 2016. Sure, there has been mitigating circumstances but fan patience is slowly thinning. Frankly, I see the opposite of what some experts think in that the Rams inexperience will be costly. I think we can expect to see better overall pursuit and tackling backing the defensive line. I see more hunger and yes, I see Wade letting the dawgs out (barking here is optional).

If The Shoe Fits, Why Not?

You have to admit; Death Row Dawgs sounds pretty good. And I’m pretty sure we would own it first in California at the pro level, if not league-wide. Yes, the defense first has to be deserving so go calling Big Whit Big Suge anytime soon.

But it can work. Multiple nicknames are acceptable and yet there’s always the risk of a new tag threatening to replace the still well-received nickname of the St. Louis years, MobSquad.

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