THOUSAND OAKS — Eric Weddle is being asked to do a lot in coming out of retirement to replace a starting safety in the Rams’ first-round playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.
Having Weddle replace two Rams starting safeties at once isn’t an option.
So several defensive backs and their coaches are going to have to be nimble for the Rams to survive a one-two punch to their secondary.
After placing Jordan Fuller on injured reserve with an ankle injury early in the week, the Rams on Saturday declared Taylor Rapp out for the Arizona game with a concussion suffered in last Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“(It’s) a big loss for us,” Coach Sean McVay said of losing Rapp, who started all 17 games for the Rams (12-5) and shared the team lead in interceptions with four, and Fuller, who started 16 games and led the team in tackles with 113.
Replacing them will require some combination of Weddle, who signed a contract Wednesday to return to the Rams at age 37 after a two-year retirement; Nick Scott, whose only start in three NFL seasons came when Fuller missed the Rams’ December victory over the Seattle Seahawks with COVID-19, and Terrell Burgess, who has played mostly on special teams.
Taking Fuller’s responsibility as the defensive signal caller will likely be inside linebacker Troy Reeder, although it was cornerback Jalen Ramsey who used the in-helmet transmitter to relay orders from defensive coordinator Raheem Morris after Fuller was injured in the fourth quarter of the 49ers game.
After Fuller went on IR on Wednesday, but before Rapp was declared out, the Rams added depth at safety by signing practice squad player Jake Gervase to the 53-man roster and signing former Ram Blake Countess and Jets castoff Sharrod Neasman to the practice squad.
There will be many moving pieces in play for McVay and Morris, as if Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray doesn’t present them with too many moving pieces all by himself with his ability to run and pass.
The big decision might be how many snaps Weddle can handle in his first game since Dec. 29, 2019.
“We’ve talked about that a lot with Eric, with our coaches,” McVay said before practice Saturday. “There’s a lot of ranges, and I think a lot of it will be feeling for the game.
“You do have tremendous confidence in those other guys. Burgess has played good football. Nick Scott’s played a lot of really good football. So, there’ll be situations and circumstances. And then Eric’s ability to communicate to us.
“But I do know as a competitor, when he’s out there, if he’s going and he gets into the flow, he’s going to want to go.”
McVay said it’s hard to predict a number of snaps for Weddle.
“This is something that’s never been done before,” McVay said. “(It) could be 10, could be 30.”
It was Morris, familiar with Weddle since he coached the Utah product and other defensive backs in the 2007 Senior Bowl, who phoned him this week to see if he was interested in helping the Rams through Fuller’s absence.
“You know me, I just did it in a playful way, asked him was he fat?” Morris said. “He said, ‘I’ll never be fat.’ I know he consistently works out, keeps himself in good shape. His brain is like no other, it’s like a coach.”
Weddle was the ideal fill-in for Fuller, Morris said.
“You’re losing your leader, losing a guy that communicates really well, a guy that does all those things great. That’s how (Weddle’s) name kind of got brought up,” Morris said, meaning those are among the two-time All-Pro’s qualities.
Coaches and players say Weddle looked ready for the challenge in his first Rams practices Thursday and Friday. It’s no surprise to them. And certainly not to Weddle.
“I think what made me great, and what made me the player I was, was just how I could process information and be able to quickly learn things and adapt,” Weddle said this week. “I’ve played in every system, every different coverage. Really, that stuff is all the same. It’s just the verbiage.
“We went out there (Thursday) on the field, and I didn’t make a mistake on any checks or calls. By Monday night, we’ll be rockin’ and rollin’.”
The Cardinals (11-6) ranked eighth in passer rating at 100.6 this season, although that number was only 87.8 in the four games after DeAndre Hopkins’ injury deprived Murray of his top wide receiver.
The Rams ranked fifth in passer rating against at 83.8. Their secondary faced injury and COVID-19 problems for much of the season. But losing both safeties at the same time is a new one.
In addition to Rapp being declared out, the Rams’ injury designations for Monday’s game show wide receiver Van Jefferson (shoulder) questionable after he was limited in practice for a second straight day Saturday, and running back and special teams player Buddy Howell (hamstring) doubtful. … The Cardinals listed James Conner (ribs), their leading rusher, as questionable, but backup running back Chase Edmonds (ribs, toe) as cleared to play. Arizona receiver Rondale Moore (ankle), left guard Justin Pugh (calf), defensive end Jordan Phillips (knee) and cornerback Marco Wilson (shoulder) also are questionable. … This will be the 88th game between the Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix and Arizona Cardinals. The only previous playoff meeting was in 1975, a 35-23 Rams win at the Coliseum. Jack Youngblood and Bill Simpson returned Jim Hart interceptions for touchdowns in that one.