LOS ANGELES (AP) — Running back Cam Akers is expected to make his season debut for the Los Angeles Rams in their regular-season finale on Sunday, adding another elite offensive talent to a top NFL offense.
And the Rams (12-4) will need all the help they can get if they hope to win the NFC West by beating a rival that thoroughly has their number.
Coach Sean McVay expects Akers to be in uniform when the Rams host the San Francisco 49ers (9-7) on Sunday. Akers tore his Achilles tendon in private workouts shortly before training camp began, but Akers and the team believe he’s ready to make a remarkably quick comeback from an injury that often requires a year of rehabilitation.
Akers fully participated in the Rams’ walkthrough practice Wednesday.
“He was full speed, flying around,” McVay said. “He’s excited. He’ll be ready to go.”
The Rams are still figuring out the extent of Akers’ involvement in the game plan against the Niners, particularly while starter Sony Michel is on an impressive streak with 497 yards and three touchdowns during their current five-game winning streak. Michel passed Darrell Henderson for the team rushing lead while posting two 100-yard games in December.
Although McVay says Akers appears to be at full strength, Los Angeles doesn’t need him to shoulder much of a ball-carrying load this week with the playoffs looming.
“I do think you want to be smart with an incremental approach,” McVay said. “Is that 10 snaps? Is that 20? Is that 25? I think that’s something that as the week progresses, we’ll have a better feel for, but we definitely want to get him involved.”
The Rams say Akers has declined to speak to reporters about his comeback, apparently choosing to wait until he actually plays first. His teammates are impressed by his tenacity while facing a tough injury.
“I think they tried to hold him back, just because it’s been insane how fast he’s been healed and how well he’s done,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It just doesn’t shock me, really, with the mentality he’s had and the confidence you’ve seen in him from Day One.”
Akers was the Rams’ leading rusher as a rookie last year with 625 yards despite not getting consistent playing time until the second half of the season. He also put up a combined 221 yards in Los Angeles’ two playoff games, cementing his status as the Rams’ starting running back for 2021 — until his Achilles injury forced the Rams to acquire Michel to pair with Henderson.
Akers made impressive progress from the start of his rehab on an injury initially thought to be season-ending. The Rams designated him to return from injured reserve two weeks ago, with McVay indicating they hoped Akers could play in the postseason.
Now that Henderson is sidelined with a sprained right knee that could end his season, the Rams could use a healthy Akers to spell Michel and more. San Francisco has one of the NFL’s top all-around defenses, and LA was outgained 156-52 on the ground in the Niners’ 31-10 victory in their first meeting back in Week 10.
The Rams’ final regular-season matchup will determine their playoff destination, and it comes against the opponent that has dominated McVay’s teams for most of his concurrent tenure with Kyle Shanahan.
But if Los Angeles can beat the 49ers for the first time since December 2018, it will claim its third division title of McVay’s half-decade in charge, along with the right to host the first playoff game at SoFi Stadium. The Rams would also win the division with a loss if Seattle beats Arizona (11-5).
“This is a tough 49ers team,” linebacker Von Miller said. “But it’s exciting just to think about the possibilities. Either way we think about it, it’s motivating to have this opportunity to go out and win (the division). All the teams around the league, the first thing you set out to do is win the division.”
NOTES: S Nick Scott is the only player other than Akers cited with an injury on the Rams’ injury report. Scott broke his thumb, but could play with a wrap on it following surgery. … McVay says WR Van Jefferson isn’t injured after he got a season-low 31 snaps last Sunday in Baltimore. McVay attributed it to “just the flow of the game. He’s still a really important part. Nothing has changed, and you can expect to see a lot of Van this week.”
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