Easley carted off with apparent knee injury
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.
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.
RAMS DEFENSIVE LINEMAN Dominique Easley, left, is shown in action last season against the 49ers.