THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) - Cam Akers was the Los Angeles Rams’ top pick in the 2020 draft, seemingly destined to succeed Todd Gurley as the centerpiece of coach Sean McVay’s offense.
Near the midway point of his rookie season, it hasn’t happened yet for the running back, thanks to a serious injury and a crowded LA backfield.
In fact, Akers got on the field for exactly one play last weekend in the Rams’ loss at San Francisco.
“I was waiting on my opportunity,” Akers said Friday. “It didn’t come, but it will come, so you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.”
The Rams say they’re still high on the speedy ball-carrier from Florida State, and fans are eagerly anticipating the chance to see his game-breaking skills.
Akers intends to stay ready: He’s still toting an NFL football around at all hours of the day, both at work and at home, in the time-tested tradition of running backs determined not to fumble.
But the Rams (4-2) haven’t given Akers much of a shot to have the ball in his hands on game days. While rookie running backs like Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jacksonville’s James Robinson are tearing it up, Akers has just 26 carries for 113 yards over his four games in uniform.
Akers also missed two games with separated rib cartilage, a painful injury that has sidelined many players for a whole lot longer. Akers believes it’s all part of adjusting to the speed and power of the NFL game.
“You know, not many people come back that quick from an injury that significant, so I’m feeling blessed,” Akers said. “I’m just trying to work to get back to where I was, and even better than I was.”
Rams coach Sean McVay says Akers’ lack of action against the 49ers is no indicator of any trouble or a lack of confidence from the coaches.
Echoing answers he gave last season about Gurley’s mysterious lack of regular usage, McVay said the Rams’ desired running back rotation, combined with a handful of short drives in the first half, were the reasons Darrell Henderson got most of the action and Akers got almost none.
“It was nothing that Cam didn’t do,” McVay said. “It was more of a result of us not really being able to establish the continuity, the rhythm that we’d like offensively where you can activate a bunch of different things and be able to get some different guys touches.”
The Rams aren’t hurting for production at running back, with Henderson stepping up for 348 yards rushing in the first six games. Yet fans are hungry to see the change of pace that would be provided by Akers’ elite speed - and Akers is eager to show he can compete in the pro game.
“It’s a faster pace, but it’s still football at the end of the day,” Akers said. “You are who you are. You’ve just got to get up with the speed.”
The Rams are receiving minimal contributions so far from their rookie class, which seems like bad news for a team that lost several veteran contributors in the offseason and basically didn’t replace many of them.
Still, those shortfalls haven’t been borne out in the Rams’ record heading into a visit from NFC North leaders Chicago (5-1) on Monday night.
Akers hasn’t played much, while second-round receiver Van Jefferson has six catches for 84 yards while playing sparingly behind Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds.
Third-round linebacker Terrell Lewis has played only 23 defensive snaps after starting the season with an injury. Fourth-round safety Terrell Burgess has played only 37 defensive snaps, and fellow fourth-rounder Brycen Hopkins still hasn’t suited up at tight end.
Other than kicker Samuel Sloman, whose job is in jeopardy after missing three extra points, the Rams’ only significant rookie contributor has been safety Jordan Fuller, a sixth-round pick out of Ohio State. Fuller unexpectedly won the starting job in training camp, but has only played in three games due to a shoulder injury that has landed him on injured reserve.
Akers seems to be in the best position to produce, and he has already showed glimpses of his talent, such as his impressive 46-yard run in the rain at Washington earlier this month. The rookie is determined to stay ready for his next chance to shine.
“My coach, he talked to me,” Akers said of Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown. “He told me the situation, but it is what it is. Just got to keep working, got to keep getting better.”
NOTES: Along with Henderson, TE Tyler Higbee (hand) and WR Robert Woods (groin) also skipped practice Friday. McVay expects all three of his injured offensive skill-position players to be available on Monday night, however: “We’re just going to be smart with those guys that have played a lot of football for us.”
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