Easley carted off with ap­par­ent knee in­jury

Los Angeles Times - - FOOTBALL - By Gary Klein gary.klein@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­timesklein

With star de­fen­sive line­man Aaron Don­ald ab­sent be­cause of a con­tract dis­pute, the Rams have a ma­jor hole in their de­fen­sive line.

That void could be­come even larger.

On the team’s first prac­tice in full pads, de­fen­sive line­man Do­minique Easley was carted from the field Tues­day af­ter suf­fer­ing what ap­peared to be a knee in­jury.

Re­ceiver Tavon Austin also was be­ing eval­u­ated af­ter a leg is­sue pre­vented him from fin­ish­ing prac­tice.

If Easley’s in­jury is se­ri­ous, that would leave tackle Michael Brock­ers as the Rams’ only pro­jected start­ing de­fen­sive line­man who is prac­tic­ing.

Don­ald and Easley have played tackle, but they are listed as ends in new de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips’ hy­brid 3-4 scheme.

Coach Sean McVay de­scribed the sit­u­a­tions re­gard­ing Don­ald and Easley as “very con­cern­ing” but said other play­ers would step up.

“Those are two very im­por­tant play­ers for us,” McVay said af­ter a prac­tice at UC Irvine that was cut short be­cause of pos­si­ble light­ning. “We’d love for Aaron to be here and we’d love for Do­minique to get a good re­port where he’s healthy.

“But if that’s not the sit­u­a­tion, we have to be ready to re­act ac­cord­ingly.”

Don­ald has not re­ported be­cause he wants a new con­tract that would make him one of the NFL’s high­est­paid de­fen­sive play­ers. He is be­ing fined $40,000 per day. Play­ers have been in con­tact with the three-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion, but there is no in­di­ca­tion when, or if, he will show up.

The blow cre­ated by Don­ald’s ab­sence has been soft­ened, or at least ra­tio­nal­ized, by the op­por­tu­ni­ties it af­fords coaches to eval­u­ate other play­ers be­fore the Rams start play­ing games that count.

McVay had praised Easley for his work in Don­ald’s ab­sence.

Easley, 25, has a his­tory of leg in­juries.

In col­lege at Florida, he suf­fered torn lig­a­ments in both knees. He also suf­fered a knee in­jury dur­ing his rookie sea­son with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots and a quadri­ceps in­jury in 2015. Both of his first two NFL sea­sons ended with Easley’s be­ing placed on the in­jured list.

The Rams signed Easley be­fore last sea­son and he pro­vided mostly solid play, play­ing in ev­ery game and record­ing 31⁄2 sacks.

He was a re­stricted free agent and signed a one-year, orig­i­nal-round ten­der to re­main with the Rams. He is sched­uled to earn about $1.8 mil­lion.

Easley was listed as a pro­jected starter in the team’s train­ing camp me­dia re­lease.

Ethan West­brooks, Mike Pur­cell, Matt Lon­gacre and rookie Tanzel Smart are among other de­fen­sive line­men on the ros­ter who could get in­creased op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Austin’s day was done af­ter he pulled up while run­ning a deep route dur­ing a drill.

He was tended to by train­ers, but Austin got to his feet and walked to the side­line be­fore leav­ing for the locker room.

“It looked like it was just a mi­nor tis­sue is­sue with some­thing in his leg,” McVay said, “and we will find out more specif­i­cally with the sever­ity of that and how long that will af­fect him.”

Austin, who signed a $42-mil­lion ex­ten­sion be­fore last sea­son, had en­joyed a pro­duc­tive first week af­ter com­ing off a wrist in­jury that re­quired surgery and forced him to sit out drills dur­ing or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties and mini­camps.

Notes

McVay pulled the team off the field about 15 min­utes be­fore the sched­uled end of prac­tice. “We had some light­ning close in the area,” he said. “I want to al­ways first be think­ing about the play­ers’ safety, and with the amount of time that it’s go­ing to take for us to be able to clear that and kind of where we were at in prac­tice, we de­cided to call it.”

Phillips, ab­sent Mon­day for what McVay de­scribed as a fam­ily mat­ter, re­turned to prac­tice . ... Rookie tight ends Gerald Everett and Travis Wil­son caught short touch­down passes. The 6-foot-7 Wil­son signed as a free agent dur­ing the off­sea­son. He played quar­ter­back at Utah and San Cle­mente High. … Re­ceiver Nel­son Spruce made sev­eral im­pres­sive catches in tight cov­er­age. … Safety La­mar­cus Joyner broke up sev­eral passes.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

RAMS DE­FEN­SIVE LINE­MAN Do­minique Easley, left, is shown in ac­tion last sea­son against the 49ers.

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