THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Rams signed running back Lance Dunbar with the hope he could complement starter Todd Gurley.
However, Dunbar’s lingering knee issues have created opportunities for second-year back Malcolm Brown and undrafted free agent Justin Davis to fill that role.
Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday that Dunbar will likely start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. That would mean Dunbar would miss the first six games before the Rams would have a five-week window in which he could be activated to the 53-man roster.
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”Been a joy to be around in the meeting room, but, unfortunately, hasn’t been able to take part in a lot of the stuff on the field that we anticipated,” McVay said. ”But he is making the most of the situation and that’s kind of where we are at right now.”
Dunbar suffered serious knee injuries in 2013 and 2015 with the Dallas Cowboys, and missed time last season because of knee soreness. The Rams agreed to a one-year contract with Dunbar in March, hoping he could replace free agent Benny Cunningham in the receiving game and on special teams, only for the veteran to be sidelined by ongoing problems with his knee.
Dunbar’s absence has made Brown the backup to Gurley, and Davis has performed well in his quest to earn a roster spot.
At 5 feet 11 and 227 pounds, Brown offers a similar skillset to Gurley, though he did show some versatility by catching two passes for 15 yards against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.
Davis made his name as a dependable and complete back at Southern California, and his play so far has backed it up. Davis rushed nine times for 70 yards in his return to the Coliseum for the preseason opener, though he did fumble twice, but responded with three receptions for 20 yards against the Raiders.
Gurley could also see more work catching passes. Despite his reputation as a bruiser, Gurley averaged 11.9 yards per catch and had six touchdown receptions as a sophomore at Georgia. His 43 receptions last season ranked 15th among NFL running backs.
”I’ve been very impressed with his ability as an all-around back,” McVay said. ”You get around him and you can see you can move him around the formation. He definitely has the ability to catch the ball outside of his frame and been pleased with him in that area, and that’s something that maybe you end up seeing a little bit more of.”
Pass protection is critical for a well-rounded running back, and both Brown and Davis agree that picking up the blitz is much more challenging in the NFL than in college.
While a college defender might only have one pass rush move, Davis said everyone in training camp has a minimum of two or three.
Davis pointed to the daily challenge of trying to block linebackers Alec Ogletree and Cory Littleton in practice.
”They got the same body type as a linebacker, but they move like safeties. You definitely got to be ready for anything they bring,” Davis said.
Versatility is the trait the Rams are hoping Dunbar can provide, but Davis understands the importance of being able to step into that role if needed.
”The best thing I can do for myself is put myself in a situation where whatever they ask me and I can get it done with no issues or whatever,” Davis said.
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