The Rams are near full strength as they prepare for their Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills.
On Monday, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. were full participants in practice, coach Sean McVay said, the first time in nearly two weeks that the top two running backs performed team drills.
Akers and Henderson were sidelined because of what McVay described as “soft-tissue” injuries.
Henderson had run at full speed for trainers before Saturday’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to McVay, and Akers also has improved.
“Expect all hands on deck” against the Bills, McVay said.
Players are off Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before returning Friday for the start of game-week preparation.
Henderson and Akers have struggled to remain physically sound during their young careers.
Henderson, a third-round draft pick in 2019, had his first two seasons cut short because of hamstring and ankle injuries. He played in 12 games last season, and sat out three playoff games because of a knee injury before returning for the Super Bowl.
Akers, a second-round pick in 2020, was sidelined twice because of injuries during his rookie season (ribs, ankle). He missed nearly all of the 2021 season because of an Achilles injury before returning for the final regular-season game.
Henderson said his latest unspecified injury was “nothing major” and that trainers proceeded with caution to ensure it did not linger.
He was happy to be back on the field for practice.
“I just got to work through a couple things and get my feet back up under me, but it felt great,” he said.
Henderson, 25, enters his fourth NFL season as the Rams’ longest-tenured running back.
He has rushed for 1,459 yards and 10 touchdowns and has caught four touchdown passes. Henderson also is a dependable pass-protecting blocker.
In 12 games last season, Henderson rushed for a career-best 688 yards and five touchdowns, and also caught three touchdown passes.
He sat out the first three playoff games because of a knee injury before returning for the Super Bowl. He caught three passes for 43 yards in the 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“There’s not any limitations on what Darrell can do when he’s available,” McVay said. “It’s just, hey, sometimes you can’t prevent some of the things that occur.”
The Rams are focused on ways to “develop the armor and the foundational strength” to sustain Henderson through the season.
While Henderson and Akers were sidelined, rookie Kyren Williams showed McVay that he could be a valuable contributor, especially with his performance during joint practices with the Bengals.
After saying that Williams would play in the final preseason game, McVay instead opted to keep him out to avoid possible injury and make sure he would be available for the opener.
Williams said last week that Henderson and Akers have been valuable mentors, offering along with running backs coach Ra’Shaad Samples immediate feedback about what he did right and how to improve after making mistakes.
Henderson and Akers only have a combined five seasons of experience, but each has played an integral role in McVay’s scheme.
“Having those guys who have been in this game, been in this league and have seen real live reps is good because you can learn from them,” Williams said.
When Henderson joined the Rams, he learned from veterans such as Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown. Now he is the elder, the running back with the most knowledge about the Rams’ offense.
“Being the oldest, that’s my job, to help coach them,” he said. “So that when one of us is off the field, there’s no drop-off.
“Everybody knows what’s going on and can do it to their best of their ability.”
The Rams must cut the roster from 80 to 53 players by Tuesday’s 1 p.m. PDT deadline. If cut players clear waivers, they can be signed to the 16-player practice squad. “There’s this narrative if you just watch [HBO’s] ‘Hard Knocks’ that soon as the 53 is done, then that’s it,” McVay said. “There’s a lot of fluidity that goes on. … So there’s going to be some tough decisions, but in my mind, a lot of these guys that are here with these 80 are going to be a part of our team as it relates to being on the practice squad.” … McVay said receiver Van Jefferson is “making good progress” following knee surgery that was performed several weeks ago. Jefferson’s status for the opener has not been determined.