IRVINE, Calif. — Chemistry is the hot-button word in Los Angeles Rams camp, given the persona of a few new additions who are sure to bring a certain spark to this team on the rise.
“They want that edge, want that fire,” Aqib Talib told USA TODAY after a weekend practice. “That’s one of the reasons they brought us here.”
Talib, the Pro Bowl cornerback who won a Super Bowl with Denver, is not only reunited with laid-back defensive coordinator Wade Phillips but also has joined forces with Marcus Peters, maybe the only cornerback in the NFL who plays with more fire.
“It comes from the way we are cut,” added Peters, seated alongside Talib in a tent adjacent to the practice field. “We ain’t gonna back down from nothing.”
Talib was obtained for a fifth-round pick in a March trade, shortly after the Rams dealt a fourth-round pick to Kansas City for Peters. That the Rams were able to land two shutdown corners without paying a premium might underscore why there’s been so much buzz about how they will mesh on a unit that also added one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh, to pair up front with All-Pro Aaron Donald.
Suh, too, brings an intense edge that has attracted extra scrutiny and sometimes fueled controversy.
Now comes the prospect of mixing these components while chasing championship visions.
“I’d rather have those types of reputations than ‘passive,’” Phillips said.
- Suh on Donald: ‘He deserves more than what I got’
- Tom Brady forever young in 19th training camp
- Graham already in awe of Rodgers’ ‘special arm’
If the interaction between Talib and Peters is any indication, this formula could be the ticket. Throughout the early stages of camp, the cornerbacks have been virtually inseparable, not only in working side by side during drills and having meals together, but also whirling around the UC Irvine campus together and connecting socially. It flows from a bond they began establishing during the offseason and figures to strengthen as the season progresses.
“We’ve just clicked,” Peters said.
It figures that Peters, heading into his fourth pro season, would see Talib as a certain type of veteran resource. Talib is in his 11th year yet sees it a bit differently.
“It’s learning from each other,” he said. “We pick each other’s brains. There’s stuff in his game that I’m learning to do right now. You can never be too smart.”
The additions (which include veteran nickel back Sam Shields) are poised to do wonders for the schemes that Phillips can cook up as arguably the NFL’s best D-coordinator. More man-to-man will allow for more exotic blitz packages. And Suh and Donald will likely give the Rams the league’s most dominant inside rush.
“The thing that’s consistent with all these guys,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of the newcomers, “is that while there’s a confidence and a swagger, they all love football. And that’s what we’re all about here.”
Suh seemed to have sensed such a connection as he searched for a team following his salary cap-related release from the Dolphins. He joined the Rams on a one-year deal worth $14 million, providing an inside force who will fortify the run defense besides providing matchup nightmares on a front line including Donald and Michael Brockers.
At the moment, the full picture of a defense that can complement McVay’s high-powered offense is a bit incomplete with the absence of Donald, holding out because of a contract issue. Donald (due $6.892 million in 2018) missed training camp last year while disputing his deal, then wound up as the NFL’s defensive player of the year.
“You want Aaron here, but the thing you know about Aaron is that when he gets here, he will be in shape,” Rams general manager Les Snead told USA TODAY. “And right now, he doesn’t wreck our practices. He has a tendency to do that (by blowing up blocking schemes).”
Donald and Suh will surely have their own chemistry. If there’s anybody who can relate to Donald’s desire for a fat new contract, which could conceivably hit the $20 million-per-year range, it’s Suh. In 2015, he struck the richest deal for a defensive player with Miami, when he bolted Detroit for a six-year, $114 million contract that included $60 million guaranteed.
Pondering Donald’s predicament as he plays out his rookie deal, Suh said, “He deserves more than what I got. It’s only right that he continues to play at a high level and prove that.”
Now that makes for some serious chemistry.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our new Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.