LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just one week ago, Robert Rochell was a rookie cornerback hoping to contribute on special teams while he waited for the opportunity to make plays for the Los Angeles Rams' defense.
When the Rams (4-1) visit the New York Giants on Sunday, there's a good chance the fourth-round pick from Central Arkansas will spend his fifth career NFL game as a starting defensive back for Los Angeles.
“I never thought I would be in this situation this early in my career,” Rochell said. “But rookie is just a title.”
Rochell is attempting to seize an opportunity for which he might not really be ready. David Long's inconsistent play thrust Rochell into a prominent role for the Rams last Thursday in Seattle, where starting cornerback Darious Williams incurred an ankle injury that makes it fairly certain Rochell will be playing a whole lot more for at least the next three weeks as Los Angeles' No. 2 cornerback.
Rochell had little time to prepare for his sharply increased role on defense in Seattle during a short week, and he had plenty of ups and downs against the Seahawks, who obviously wanted to text his moxie. Rochell realizes that's the nature of being an inexperienced NFL defensive back, and he refused to back down.
“When I got the notification of what was going to happen, I had to right then put my big-boy shoes on,” he said. “I had to be ready. I had to stand up for this team and all the other guys who are going out there day in and day out with me. We all represent each other, so I just tried to go out there with a big heart and a clear mind.”
Rochell committed a 47-yard pass interference penalty that led to the Seahawks' first points when he tackled Tyler Lockett instead of letting him catch a long pass. Rochell later gave up a TD pass to DK Metcalf on which he admitted making a technique mistake.
But Rochell also settled down in his role, and he broke up a pass from Geno Smith to Lockett in the end zone with 3:09 to play, stalling the Seahawks' failed comeback in the Rams' 26-17 victory.
“As a DB, you’re no better than your last play," Rochell said. “So the last play, I had to delete it and I had to get ready for the next one, because my next one could be the best play, you know? It only takes one.”
Rochell got the chance to play more because Long struggled as the Rams' nickel back against Arizona in Week 4 during the Rams' only loss. Williams then sprained his ankle last week in Seattle, and the Rams placed him on injured reserve Tuesday.
Rochell already overcame several setbacks this season: He had surgery on his left wrist in July, and he's still wearing a cast that affects his ball skills. He then missed a key block on special teams during Week 2 in Indianapolis, which apparently contributed to the fact he didn't play at all in Week 3.
Los Angeles seems comfortable trusting Rochell to play most of the snaps vacated by Williams, who is likely to be out for only three weeks, coach Sean McVay said. Williams, a waiver wire pickup who played his way into a starting role with LA, made the clinching defensive play with a diving interception in the Rams’ win over the Giants last season.
“I like the way Rochell handled himself,” McVay said. “He’s a mentally tough kid. He’s unfazed. ... Certainly wasn’t perfect, but his competitiveness, his toughness, all of those things that make you a football player, I thought that was demonstrated.”
Instead of signing a veteran free-agent defensive back or swinging one of the midseason trades for which GM Les Snead is justly known, the Rams appear to be ready to face the Giants with Rochell and Long alongside 2020 All-Pro Jalen Ramsey.
“It might not be one guy” replacing Williams, McVay said. “It might be kind of a committee approach. Those things are predicated on, ‘Are you playing two corners? Are you playing three corners? Do you get into some of your subgroupings where it might even be more than that?’ So we’re going to explore all measures.”
NOTES: DT Aaron Donald missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury. The Rams said their three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year banged knees with an opponent in Seattle and was still sore, so the Rams decided to rest their defensive cornerstone. He intends to play Sunday. ... K Matt Gay was limited in practice by soreness in his ankle. He is also expected to play Sunday.
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