With Rams full of star power, Leonard Floyd has been silent assassin on the edge
There are benefits to being overshadowed in the Rams’ defense by lineman Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, and outside linebacker Von Miller, a former Super Bowl most valuable player and the league’s active leader with 115½ career sacks.
“I don’t have to talk to the media as much — I don’t get all the attention they get,” edge rusher Leonard Floyd said on a videoconference call. “It gives me peace, you know? I don’t have to do anything but play football, and that’s all I want to do. I don’t care for all the extras. I just want to line up and play.”
There was no avoiding the spotlight this week. The Rams play the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, and they’re counting on the 6-foot-4, 251-pound Floyd’s potentially game-wrecking combination of power and speed to play a key role in containing Cincinnati’s dynamic offense.
“Every time you bring Von’s name up, you have to bring Flo’s name up because of the kind of player he is,” Donald said. “He’s a big, strong guy, but at the same time, he has the technique and quickness to play on the edge. He’s a big-time playmaker for us, another guy who played a huge part in why we’re here today.”
Floyd, in his second year with the Rams, benefits from the presence of Donald and Miller — especially when Donald is positioned on Floyd’s side of the line — because they draw so much attention from opposing blockers.
“It’s crazy to see the offense dedicating so many people to one person, which they should because A.D. is a monster, a real-deal monster,” said Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64-million deal before this season. “One time, a team put four people on him.”
When opponents focus heavily on Donald and Miller, there is more room to operate for Floyd, who had 9½ sacks this season — second on the team behind Donald (12½) — to go with 70 combined tackles, seven tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits.
The Rams had 50 sacks this season, third most in the league. The Bengals yielded 55 sacks, third most in the league, and quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked nine times in a 19-16 AFC divisional playoff win over Tennessee.
“All the guys up front are so fast, and we want it so much, it’s like a competition to see who’s gonna get there first,” Floyd said. “How we play up front is gonna dictate whether we win or lose.”
Five weeks ago, Eric Weddle was about to enter his third year of retirement from the NFL, his days happily filled with pickup basketball games, coaching his son’s 12-and-under football team and shuttling his three daughters to and from soccer, volleyball and basketball practice.
Sunday in SoFi Stadium, Weddle will not only start the Super Bowl, but also he’ll wear the “green dot,” giving the 37-year-old safety authority to relay signals from defensive coordinator Raheem Morris through a helmet microphone, a task reserved for defenders who are expected to play every snap.
“I've held the ‘mic’ four or five years, so it's nothing new,” Weddle said after practice Friday in Thousand Oaks. “It’s actually beneficial, I feel, for a safety to have it, because you always know the secondary is going to have the call.
“In the up-tempo, no-huddle situations, big plays happen because guys don't know what the call is. It’s a hard transition if you haven't done it for guys, so it's a seamless transition for me because I've done it before and I'm gonna be on the field for every play.”
The added responsibility is the culmination of Weddle’s rapid transformation from a reserve who played 19 snaps in the playoff opener against Arizona to a key defender who played 61 of 72 snaps (85%) against Tampa Bay and all 51 snaps with a team-leading nine tackles in the NFC title game against San Francisco.
“He’s been special since he walked into the building with his communication, his leadership and his play,” Morris said. “Make no mistake about it, we didn’t bring him here just to talk. We brought him to be a playmaker, which he’s become.”
Right guy, wrong sport
Bengals coach Zac Taylor, a Rams assistant in 2017-2018, has coached more than football in Southern California. In the spring of 2018, he coached a Newbury Park Pony League Pinto Black Division team of 7- and 8-year-olds that included his son, Brooks.
“I was the worst coach in the league, I can promise you that,” Taylor said with a smile. “They were short a coach … I don’t have a baseball background. I only played through fifth grade. My son wanted to play, so I signed up to coach.”
Involved in the Rams’ offseason program at the same time, Taylor was frequently late for practices. He praised the other team fathers for their help.
“Our record wasn’t very good, but I had an enjoyable time,” Taylor said. “It was a cool thing to be a part of, but it was not where my coaching would shine through, I can promise you that.”
Rams running back Darrell Henderson Jr. and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day will be activated from injured reserve for the game, but tight end Tyler Higbee (knee) and reserve tackle Joe Noteboom (chest) are out.
Staff writers Jeff Miller and Jack Harris contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.