McVay sees Henderson as Rams’ best RB option with Akers hurt

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — When Cam Akers tore his Achilles tendon during offseason workouts, it seemingly left the Los Angeles Rams with questions at running back, including whether a reunion with their former star Todd Gurley was possible.

But coach Sean McVay expressed confidence with the Rams’ current options at the position and ruled out the addition of a more experienced tailback before training camp starts on Wednesday.

“I don’t think that’s something that we’re exploring right now, just the veteran route,” McVay said Monday.

Instead, third-year running back Darrell Henderson will be counted on to replace Akers. A third-round draft pick in 2019, Henderson was rarely featured as a rookie behind Gurley and Malcolm Brown, finishing with 147 yards rushing on 39 carries.

Henderson got off to a promising start last season, running for 81 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against Philadelphia and setting career highs with 20 attempts for 114 yards and a score against Buffalo the following week.

But Henderson couldn’t build on that two-week stretch as the Rams’ whole offense bogged down, and a high-ankle sprain in December sidelined him for the last game of the regular season and the postseason. Akers emerged as the lead back late in the year, including totaling 272 yards from scrimmage in two playoff games, while Henderson finished with 624 yards rushing and five touchdowns in 15 games.

Still, McVay sees that brief flourish as an indication of what Henderson is capable of.

“I mean, if you look through the first half of the year last year, this has never been an ability question for Darrell Henderson. This is, ‘All right, how do we find a strategic and a structured way to keep him available for all these games?’ and ‘what does that workload look like?’ because he is the most established guy in that room,” McVay said. “You can see when he gets the ball in his hand and he puts his foot in the ground, there’s a burst, and he’s sturdy, too.”

McVay confirmed the importance of Henderson by declaring he will not play in the preseason. That’s a notable distinction for McVay, who has elected to sit nearly all of his starters in exhibition games since becoming head coach in 2017.

Henderson’s absence in those games will leave carries for second-year backs Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais, seventh-round pick Jake Funk and undrafted Otis Anderson.

Jones and Calais have never had a carry in a regular-season game.

McVay said joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders will be even more important in evaluating how much those unproven players could contribute.

“I really look at the three competitive opportunities that we have, one against the Cowboys and two against the Raiders, as real kind of preseason games while minimizing some of the risk for injury, and so those will be really good opportunities to evaluate these guys,” McVay said. “They’ll be thrown in competitive situations starting on Wednesday that they wouldn’t have otherwise if Cam and Darrell are your guys. So I think it’ll become more and more clear as they accumulate those reps.”

NOTES: Rookie WR Tutu Atwell was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Atwell was the Rams’ highest pick in the 2021 draft, selected 57th overall in the second round. … McVay said the vaccination rate among Rams players will be “really close to 100% by the time the season starts.

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