Morris sees opportunity in taking over Rams’ No. 1 defense

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Raheem Morris and Sean McVay first met on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coaching staff over a decade ago, and Morris immediately knew this 22-year-old assistant wide receivers coach was going places.

Morris is thrilled they’re back together with the Los Angeles Rams to go after a Super Bowl title.

“He’s had all the answers since 2008,” the Rams’ new defensive coordinator said Thursday. “As soon as you met him, he lit up a room. He’s got a commanding presence. You can feel the type of people that should be head coaches in this league. You feel the leadership off of them, and you can feel all the stuff that you want to know and how they’re going to go get it done, and that is him.”

McVay has said much the same about Morris after they coached together for three more years in Washington, in between Morris’ head coaching stints in Tampa Bay and in Atlanta.

They’re back together for a third time in Los Angeles, where McVay eagerly chose Morris last month to be his most important assistant on a team with championship aspirations. The Rams showed their eagerness to build on last season’s success by acquiring quarterback Matthew Stafford last month.

Morris is taking over the NFL’s No. 1 defense from Brandon Staley, who had so much success in his sole season in charge that the Los Angeles Chargers hired him to be their head coach with just four years of NFL experience.

Morris, himself a former wunderkind head coach, jumped at the opportunity to follow Staley’s impressive performance. Morris also realizes success is a whole lot easier to achieve with a defense built around three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said. “I think it’s more of an opportunity. Anytime you get a chance to be a part of greatness, join greatness, be a part of a bunch of winning like these guys have been able to do around here in the past, to be able to add onto that, to be able to join a bunch of good coaches with a really good group of players, you’re just fired up more than pressured. It’s an opportunity to be a part of greatness, and that’s something I’m going to relish.”

For all his extensive NFL experience, Morris has only been a defensive coordinator in the league for five games. He took that job in Atlanta last season after filling several roles on Dan Quinn’s staff over the previous half-decade, but he moved up to interim head coach after Quinn was fired, going 4-7 and getting interviews for the permanent job that ultimately went to Arthur Smith.

Morris already has a few fundamental ideas about his defense’s structure and strategy. The Rams will continue to be a 3-4 base defense, but Morris plans to follow Staley’s lead in installing plenty of sub-packages that will make their defensive front unpredictable and adaptable.

The Rams have run a 3-4 throughout McVay’s tenure, starting under coordinator Wade Phillips in 2017. Morris praised the work of both of his predecessors.

“You’ve got to formulate things you’re doing around your players,” Morris said. “Staley did a great job of doing things that his really good players can do. There will be a lot of things that will be similar to when Wade was here, and will be similar to when Staley did it, and it’s based on the guys that you have, and the guys that we have are really talented players.”

Morris plans to move Ramsey around on his defense, just as the Rams did last year, to use his skills in numerous areas besides isolated pass coverage. He also wants to create one-on-one matchups for Donald, who faces more double teams than any player in the NFL.

Morris knows his defense won’t look the same at Staley’s group. The Rams could lose safety John Johnson, linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Troy Hill in free agency, fundamentally altering the chemistry and playmaking capability of the group.

But Morris seems confident the Rams can put together a scheme that matches up with last year’s lofty standard.

“I wasn’t brought here to try to duplicate what they did last year,” Morris said. “I was brought here to try to win a championship.”

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