How Rams DC Brandon Staley will use Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald

Jalen Ramsey likes what he's heard so far from new Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Harry How/Getty Images

Aaron Donald likes what he sees of the Los Angeles Rams' defense under first-year coordinator Brandon Staley.

The only issue is most everything Donald knows about Staley's scheme has been conveyed through a computer screen.

"I can't tell you if I love it or not because I didn't have to go on the grass and do nothing yet," Donald said during a video conference with reporters.

As the Rams forge ahead with their virtual offseason program during the coronavirus pandemic, defensive players are learning an updated system and growing acquainted with Staley, a 37-year old newcomer who is replacing veteran coordinator Wade Phillips.

"Coach is a great man," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said about Staley. "I like him a lot."

Rams players say Staley, an outside linebackers coach under defensive guru Vic Fangio over the past three seasons with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, brings palpable energy to virtual meetings along with a system that is similar to the 3-4 scheme that they've deployed over the past three seasons, although they say Staley's version adds some flair.

"We feeding off him and I feel it in our meetings," cornerback Troy Hill said. "The defense that he bring in, the scheme that he bring in, I think it's a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays for everybody."

Ramsey, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, was coy when asked to describe how he expected to be utilized in Staley's scheme.

"I don't want to overshare, but I'm very excited about the way I'm going to be utilized," said Ramsey, who has intercepted nine passes in 51 career games. "I think my talents will be shown thoroughly, not just in one aspect, if you kind of catching my gist."

Staley also is intent on magnifying opportunities for Donald, who had 20.5 sacks in 2018 and 12.5 last season despite facing a double team on 65.6% of his pass rushes, according to ESPN's pass rush win rate using NFL Next Gen Stats.

"The thing with Aaron is we all know what he's capable of," Staley said. “But how can we help him do his job better and maybe lift some weight off his shoulders, how can we design things to make it a little easier for him?"

Donald grinned and said he was anxious to test Staley's installs on the field.

"Seeing certain things and how we're going to do certain things that I feel can open up, not just for me but for other guys as well, so I'm just itching, itching to get back and play some ball," Donald said. "He talked to me, it sounds great -- start shaking a little bit, got a big smile on your face, but we won't know, won't see until it's time to go out there and play some ball, so we're going to see."

Besides the two stars, Staley inherits a unit that ranked ninth last season in defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), but which allowed an average of 339 yards (ranked 13th) and 22.8 points (17th) per game.

The Rams return eight starters, including two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Donald and All-Pro Ramsey, veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers and fourth-year safety John Johnson III -- who returns after spending 10 games last season on injured reserve.

However, as Staley attempts to improve last season's unit, he'll have to do so without several key playmakers who departed this offseason, including outside linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews, who had a combined 19.5 sacks, linebacker Cory Littleton, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons, slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman and safety Eric Weddle.

The Rams signed outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson in free agency. Both are expected to contend for starting positions. And in the third round of the NFL draft, the Rams selected Alabama outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and Utah safety Terrell Burgess.

"We're all getting to know each other through a computer screen, but I would say that these guys are really impressive," Staley said about his defensive players. "The resilience of these guys has been really impressive, being able to look through a computer screen and meet as if we were in person, and develop relationships, getting a feel for each other has been a lot more seamless than I would have ever thought."

Staley describes his defense as a 3-4 structure, but says multiple packages that include defensive-back heavy personnel groupings will be used.

"How you activate that personnel, the people that are actually in the game, that will express itself when those best players emerge and the matchup within the game," Staley said.

Along with Ramsey and Johnson in the secondary, the Rams return cornerbacks Hill, Darious Williams and David Long and safety Taylor Rapp. Staley lauded Williams' performance in the final two games of last season, commended Hill for his versatility and went in depth about Ramsey's past production and future potential.

"He's got command of all the positions in the defensive backfield. I do not look at him just as a corner, I look at him as a DB," Staley said. "The guy can do anything ... I know that there's a lot more in him for him to showcase."

The No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 draft by the Bears, Floyd played under Staley for two seasons before Staley departed for Denver. The Bears did not exercise Floyd's fifth-year option, which made it possible to sign with the Rams in free agency and reunite with his former position coach.

"It's gonna be great playing for him again," Floyd said. "He's a guy who is very intelligent. He works hard, he really studies the game."