THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley departed after the season to become the Los Angeles Chargers‘ head coach, Rams coach Sean McVay knew exactly who he wanted to hire as a replacement.
McVay turned immediately to Raheem Morris, who he had coached with at two previous stops in Tampa Bay and Washington.
“When you’re looking at what you’re looking for from a coach, he checks all the boxes,” McVay said about the 19-year NFL coaching veteran. “He has an incredible ability to communicate and to relate to so many different types of people, I think he can help them reach their highest potential.”
Morris, who turns 45 in September, joins the Rams after spending the past six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, where he most recently served as defensive coordinator before being promoted to interim head coach once Dan Quinn was fired after an 0-5 start. The Falcons finished the season 4-12.
Morris is the Rams’ third defensive coordinator over the past three seasons and inherits a unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season, allowing an average of 18.5 points per game.
“You’re really just fired up more than pressured,” Morris said about taking over the league’s top defensive unit. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of greatness and it’s certainly something that I’m going to relish.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring his own little twist to the defense, but overall I feel like we’re going to have similar things but at the same time, different things,” said Donald, who produced 13.5 sacks last season. “So just learning a new scheme, trying to see how he wants us to play certain stuff, but I’m excited. I hear nothing but great things about him, so I’m definitely pumped up to have the opportunity to work with him and be a part of this organization.”
Floyd put together a career-best season with 10.5 sacks playing on a one-year, $10 million contract.
The defensive signal-caller last season, Johnson has been a staple in the secondary since he took over as starter five games into his rookie year. In four seasons he has eight interceptions and 32 pass deflections.
And Hill stepped up to fill the void after slot-cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman‘s departure last offseason. He finished last season with three interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.
Rams general manager Les Snead said it would be a collaborative process to ensure that Morris has the pieces necessary to build his defense.
“The coach has his plan on the whiteboard. How do we help bring it to life with the X’s and O’s that are actually real people, players with different skill sets and different super powers?” Snead said. “We want to align the super powers. If they need a player with this type of super power, we need to do that. That’s our role in this.”
Morris said he would unquestionably like to have all of the Rams’ free agents return, but has realistic expectations about the evolving nature of NFL rosters.
“I’m definitely going to have an opinion, I’m going to give my opinion. I’m going to tell all the people that need to hear my opinion, what they need to hear,” Morris said. “They’ll make those decisions on who we bring back based on whatever the reasons are, whether it be money, whether it be the new cap, whether their situations are and how you can bring people back.”
Personnel isn’t all that will change, as the Rams defensive staff underwent its most significant shakeups since McVay took over as coach in 2017.
Linebackers coach Joe Barry departed to become the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant took a position with the Detroit Lions as the secondary coach and passing game coordinator. Both coaches held their positions with the Rams the past four seasons.
Outside linebackers coach Chris Shula will shift to coach linebackers, while safeties coach Ejiro Evero’s role will expand to the entire secondary. Eric Henderson returns for a third season as defensive line coach.
Morris intends to keep the base 3-4 scheme that former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips installed in 2017 and that Staley kept when he took over last season. But with a background rooted in a 4-3 scheme, expect Morris to implement his own wrinkles.
“You kind of formulate the things that you do around your players,” Morris said. “Staley did a great job of doing things that his really good players could do. He did a great job of doing the things that the guys are capable of doing here. There’ll be a lot of things that’ll be similar.
“It’s my job to come in and allow myself to be the best version of myself. That’s the communicator, that’s the guy that can be a confidant to these guys. That’s the guy that can get these guys lined up to be able to do the best things that they can do.”