Lindsey Thiry, ESPN 55d

Cam Akers confident about taking Los Angeles Rams' run game to next level

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Contributing to a running back committee and slowed by a freak injury, it took Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers deep into his rookie season to break out.

Akers took handoff after handoff, 29 in total, as he thrashed through the New England Patriots' defense for 171 yards in front of a prime-time television audience in Week 14 last season.

It was the beginning of a standout two-month stretch that saw Akers average more than 92 yards per game and led to Rams coach Sean McVay's postseason declaration that Akers was an every-down back who could make an impact in the passing game and be featured.

Akers, who will switch jersey numbers from No. 23 to 3 this season, heard McVay's declaration but said he has not allowed the knowledge of an expanded role affect his approach during the voluntary offseason program.

"I just handle it taking it day by day; that's the only thing you can do is make sure that you're doing all you can to be at your best for the team," said Akers, who turns 22 later this month. "That's what I've been focusing on doing, whether that's being a leader or making plays, just doing what I can do to help this team. Not making it more than what it is."

Selected in the second round (No. 52 overall) of the 2020 draft from Florida State, the 5-foot-10, 217-pound Akers shared time last season with Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown.

Henderson returns for his third season, though he has been slowed during offseason team activities because of an undisclosed injury. Brown departed in free agency for the Miami Dolphins.

That has allowed plenty of reps for Akers as he becomes acquainted with quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is entering his 13th NFL season but his first with the Rams.

"It's been fun getting to know Matt," said Akers, who's followed on the depth chart by Henderson, Xavier Jones, Jake Funk and Raymond Calais. "Gaining chemistry, catching balls, getting handoffs from him. Feeling the way he likes to lead, just learning each other."

In 13 games last season, Akers was the Rams' leading rusher with 625 yards and two touchdowns on 145 carries. He also caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Akers spent two games sidelined after suffering a rib injury in Week 2 when he awkwardly fell on the football. He also played through a high-ankle sprain later in the season.

In two playoff game appearances, Akers averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 110 yards per game.

"He's just so relaxed back there," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said during organized team activities. "That's a trait and a mentality that shows you that he's wired different and he's somebody that expects to perform well and I think guys are excited to see him do his thing and continue to grow."

This season, which has expanded from 16 to 17 regular-season games, Akers has the potential to become the first Rams player to rush for 1,000 yards since Todd Gurley, who rushed for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2018 to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl LIII appearance.

How does McVay plan to utilize Akers?

"All the ways that you would want to be able to use a running back that doesn't have any limitations," said McVay, who's entering his fifth season as coach. "No. 1, you've got to be able to play on all three downs."

Though Akers displayed his running and pass-catching ability late last season, there remains room for improvement when it comes to the intricate details of the game, a typical leap most NFL running backs must make from Year 1 to 2 and build on as their career progresses.

Pass protection and understanding responsibilities on blitz packages remain paramount in Akers' development in order to gain the trust of McVay and Stafford on all three downs.

"It's just in the detail and what his job entails every single snap," McVay said. "The biggest thing that you would talk about, he's got great natural run instincts, he's really talented as a pass-catcher, it's the nuanced understanding of where you fit in on some of the protections when the back is involved and I think it's just continuing to become more and more complete."

Akers said he has studied the playbook so he knows it like the back of his hand. He also worked on sharpening his footwork.

Mentally, Akers said he's also made strides.

"Just everything slows down," Akers said about the speed of the game. "Everything is a lot easier for me. Understand the playbook a lot more, I understand blocking schemes, I understand who I need to block, just understanding a lot more."

Said Whitworth, who's entering his 16th season: "He's really wired the right way."

^ Back to Top ^