Rookie safety Quentin Lake showed Rams coaches his potential on special teams.
Yet something other than performance and athletic ability earned the former UCLA standout an opportunity on defense.
During last Monday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, with safety Taylor Rapp out for a few plays, the Rams needed an extra defensive back for a specific package.
Lake had never played the position. He’d never practiced it.
Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris called on Lake anyway, citing his study habits.
“‘Have you seen his notebook?’” Morris said he told defensive backs coach Chris Shula, “‘Put him in.’”
Lake played two snaps. And relished them.
“The message, at least for me, was always stay ready — regardless of the circumstance,” said Lake, who had been sidelined for much of the season because of a knee injury. “You never know when the opportunity is going to present itself.”
Lake is among several young players that could see increased roles on Sunday against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium, and in the final two games against the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.
The loss to the Packers eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Rams from playoff contention and, coupled with injuries or roster moves at nearly every position, opened the door for younger players to gain experience.
That especially is the case on defense.
Edge rusher Michael Hoecht saw his role grow in the last four games with defensive linemen Bobby Brown III, Earnest Brown IV, safety Russ Yeast and now perhaps Lake set to play more.
“They’re defining their roles moving forward, and when we are relevant, when that stuff matters,” Morris said.
Said linebacker Bobby Wagner: “No one really ever learns until they’re in the fire.”
Hoecht signed with the Rams in 2020 as an undrafted free agent defensive lineman. He mainly played special teams and as a rotational player last season and for most of this one. In need of a spark and production opposite Leonard Floyd, Hoecht was moved to outside linebacker.
He has two sacks and forced a fumble.
“He’s going to make some mistakes, but he’s absolutely shown great promise,” Morris said. “I think we’ve seen him hit the quarterback more in the last three weeks than we’ve seen just about anybody on our team other than Flo and Bobby Wagner.”
Bobby Brown III, a 2021 fourth-round draft pick in 2021, was sidelined six games to open the season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. With star defensive lineman Aaron Donald and Marquise Copeland sidelined because of ankle injuries, Brown started for the first time against the Packers and played a career-high 45 snaps.
His goal for the last three games?
“Just want to show that I can play ball,” he said, “and I’m a playmaker.”
Earnest Brown IV, a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, played for the first time on Dec. 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders. He played 11 defensive snaps against the Packers.
His time on the practice squad proved valuable, he said.
“When you’re not playing, in your mind, like, you’re thinking, ‘Am I good enough?’” he said. “But you keep working on your craft, work on your weaknesses and just improve as a player, and I feel like I did.”
Yeast, a 2022 seventh-round pick, has played more than 10 defensive snaps in three of the last five games.
On Monday, he faced Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL most valuable player. On Sunday, he goes against Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, like Rodgers a Super Bowl champion.
Young players initially must get past the resumes of star opponents.
“Once you’re out there, it’s just who you’re going against,” Yeast said. “But before that, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of that going on. Just being a rookie coming in and experiencing everything for the first time, it’s only natural for that to happen.
“But you’ve got to realize, you’re on this stage and you’re here for a reason and you’re playing against them for a reason too.”
Yeast and Lake have shown potential, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
“Russ plays fearless, which is something that we all like in the DB room,” Ramsey said. “Lake has the capabilities to do all that as well and make a lot of plays. … They’ve been preparing like they’re the starters every single week so they’ll know when their opportunities come that we can trust and believe that they’ll be ready.”