THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams intend to replace Todd Gurley by using three running backs extensively this season, the plan might need a short-term alteration with two of those backs already slowed by injuries.
Luckily for the Rams, Darrell Henderson is healthy and playing the best football of his young NFL career.
Coming off the most productive game of his tenure with Los Angeles, Henderson is likely to get plenty of work Sunday when the Rams (2-0) visit the Buffalo Bills for an early showdown of unbeaten teams.
The second-year pro from Memphis set a career high with 81 yards rushing in the Rams’ 37-19 win at Philadelphia. He also had two key receptions for 40 yards, and he rushed for a short touchdown that put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Henderson modestly said he “felt like I had the hot hand,” but the Rams weren’t surprised to see the way Henderson asserted himself early in his second season, which is typically when many skill-position players make a big jump.
“You’ve seen his jump has been awesome,” quarterback Jared Goff said Wednesday. “As a running back in our offense, there’s a lot asked of them. When they’re able to put the mental part behind them and just be able to play and show their physicality and show their athleticism, that’s where he’s at now, and it’s showing, and it’s exciting to see. He had a great game last week.”
He should have many more opportunities soon: Two of the Rams’ top three running backs missed practice Wednesday as the Rams began their preparation for Buffalo. Rookie Cam Akers has separated rib cartilage, and Malcolm Brown injured his left pinky finger.
Henderson is going full speed after getting a slow start to an important season for his career. The third-round pick in 2019 picked up a hamstring injury early in training camp and missed most of the preseason workouts.
Meanwhile, Akers impressed the coaches enough to get the starting role in each of the first two games. Brown then took over as the featured back in the Rams’ season opener with strong play against Dallas.
Henderson didn’t get to play much as a rookie behind Gurley and Brown. The hamstring injury set him back again, and he admits he still isn’t 100% healthy.
But Henderson never got discouraged, and when he was the healthiest running back left in Philadelphia, he capitalized.
“It was a setback,” Henderson said of his hamstring woes. “I just used it to work even harder, to make sure when I came back, my hamstring would hold up pretty good. I feel pretty good now, but I’m just going to keep doing what the coach asks me to do and keep playing my game.”
The Rams believed they couldn’t find one running back to replace Gurley, the centerpiece of their offense for the past half-decade and one of the NFL’s most productive offensive players over that time. Gurley was released last spring in a money-saving move.
Henderson, Akers and Brown have teamed up with Thomas Brown, the Rams’ first-year running backs coach, to get better together. Rather than competing for carries or starts, they insist they’re committed to making it work by committee.
“We’ve just got a great bond,” Henderson said. “We’re always coaching each other up to make sure we’re doing everything the right way. We’re a family, so everybody is close. We’ve got that bond, like a brotherhood. … The Rams’ running game has always been strong, so we’re just keeping it going.”
NOTES: LG Joe Noteboom is likely headed to injured reserve for at least three weeks after he strained his calf in Philadelphia, coach Sean McVay said. Noteboom hurt himself while sprinting out as a pulling guard. David Edwards will take Noteboom’s starting spot on the line. He started 10 games at right guard as a rookie last season. … CB Darious Williams (ankle), Noteboom, Brown and Akers missed practice Wednesday.
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