THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)When the Los Angeles Rams abruptly lost the top two remaining running backs on their depth chart to late-game injuries last Sunday, they decided to open a midseason competition for the job.
The Rams promoted tested veteran Royce Freeman from the practice squad to the roster alongside rookie sixth-round pick Zach Evans. They dipped into Minnesota’s practice squad to sign Myles Gaskin, another veteran with a pair of 500-yard seasons for Miami.
They also re-signed Darrell Henderson, who spent most of the past four seasons with the Rams and even won a Super Bowl ring.
With four candidates in place, the Rams’ coaching staff will spend this week deciding who gets the ball Sunday when Los Angeles (3-3) hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2).
“We’ve got the week to be able to evaluate, and I would say all four of those guys are possibilities,” coach Sean McVay said. “We’re truly navigating through that.”
The Rams were forced into this open audition because Kyren Williams injured his left ankle a few plays after backup running back Ronnie Rivers hurt his knee in the second half of LA’s 26-9 victory over Arizona.
Although Evans is the only tailback of the four without significant NFL experience, he started this race in pole position. The former five-star high school recruit who played at TCU and Mississippi has been in the Rams’ system all year, although he only got his first four regular-season carries in the final minutes last Sunday.
Evans has been playing the role of opponents’ top running back each week on the scout team. He also says he’s less banged-up physically in mid-October than he can remember being since he was a freshman in high school, so he’s eager to roll.
“I just try to do my best to stay prepared,” Evans said. “In situations where it might get a little unsettling because you’re not playing, you’ve got to worry about you. Worry about what you bring to the table. Don’t worry about everybody else. When you handle your stuff, they’ll notice.”
Henderson’s return to the team clearly pleased his former teammates, who razzed him in the locker room and on the practice field. Henderson was released last fall after 3 1/2 seasons with the Rams, and he was out of the league before getting the call to come back to LA.
Freeman won a depth job with the Rams in training camp after playing the previous five NFL seasons with three teams.
While he’s eager to help as a ball-carrier, as a pass protector or on special teams, Freeman says the competition for carries is “good for the room. Everybody encourages everybody in that room. Everybody is capable and ready.”
Gaskin, a Seattle-area native, said he was thrilled to be back on the West Coast and eager to get his career restarted after frequently being a healthy scratch last year following strong seasons with the Dolphins in 2020 and 2021. Gaskin already has familiarity with some aspects of McVay’s offense after playing for Mike McDaniel with Miami and Kevin O’Connell with Minnesota.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys that had ups and downs in their career, and the biggest thing I took from that is to stay true to your process, stay true to your work,” said Gaskin, who got just 10 carries last year. “All that advice I had soaked up from the last four years in Miami paid off.”
Williams got hurt after racking up a career-best 158 yards and a touchdown in his breakthrough game. He watched his teammates practice Wednesday with a cast on his left ankle, but the Rams haven’t placed him on injured reserve, likely meaning they hope he can return in fewer than four games.
Less than four weeks earlier, Los Angeles had traded starter Cam Akers to Minnesota because he fell out with the coaching staff for the second time in his career. Akers and Henderson were the primary running backs on the Rams’ championship team two seasons ago.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick wasn’t at the Rams’ training complex. He was arrested in Hollywood early Sunday morning on suspicion of illegal gun possession. McVay declined to give any more details about Kendrick’s status with the team, and the coach said he hadn’t talked directly to the cornerback. Kendrick has started every game this season for Los Angeles.
NOTES: McVay clarified his comments last week about his plans for the birth of his first child, likely this month: “I’m not going to miss a game. My son knows better than to come during a game.” … LB Ernest Jones and DT Larrell Murchison didn’t practice while resting knee injuries. … NT Kobie Turner (shoulder) was limited in practice, as was OL Joe Noteboom (groin). … Former Steelers OL Kevin Dotson is listed on the injury report (ankle), but he was a full practice participant.
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