American Football

For Rams defense to survive, this edge rusher needs to step up in year 4

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Michael Hoecht blocks a punt, are his days on the special teams over? | Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michael Hoecht has spent all offseason working out on the edge for the first time

Michael Hoecht has been one of the Los Angeles Rams most versatile players. He’s logged snaps at fullback on offense, up and down the defensive line, and all the special teams units, coverage, return, and block. Now he’s looking at a new role, taking over as the Rams starting edge/defensive end.

Not the typical edge, mind you. At 6’ 4” 290 lbs., he has the size and strength to handle playing with his hand in the dirt, but is blessed with enough athleticism to play standing up and get into space. Hoecht was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Brown. On his Pro Day, the Ivy Leaguer layed down some stellar numbers. He clocked a 4.65 forty, 7.05 3Cone, and 4.21 shuttle. In the explosion drills, he recorded 33.5” in the vertical, a 9’ 2” broad, and pushed 23 reps on the bench.

It may be premature to assign Hoecht a starting role so early in the training camp process. On one hand, the Rams braintrust thought enough of his stature to have him join another versatile defensive player, DeCobie Durant, on the Day 1 press conference stage. But on the other, Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris was guarded when asked to comment on Hoecht’s development and leadership qualities in a May 31 presser.

“I wouldn’t get carried away in saying it was a leadership role for Mike,” Morris said. “ I think Mike’s kind of finding his own role. I think what he started to do at the end of last year really started to help him define leadership, define what that means. I think how he leads is kind of by example, just by who he is, (and) where he’s been… having the availability to play multiple positions. I think all that stuff helps with his leadership. I wouldn’t put too much on him or put too much on his plate. You got to realize he’s still young at the position. I can’t remember what game exactly he switched over full-time, but I know it wasn’t a long time, especially for this league and how it goes…”

Still young and inexperienced, yes, but his 408 defensive snaps makes makes him the second-most experienced returnee on the defensive front behind Aaron Donald. After Hoecht, the entirety of the edge room has 112 pro snaps. In his July 25 press conference, Hoecht gave his thoughts on dealing with an inexperienced unit and playing with Donald.

The way our room is now, we all have a lot of ownership over it because we’re all really so young… There’s not a ton of experience there, which means we get to make the room exactly how we want it. We get to set the culture. This is a next up league and when you don’t have a lot of veterans in your room, it’s up to the young guys to step up and fill those roles. The expectation is we’re going to be the best outside linebacker group. We’re gonna play well, cover people, stop the run, and get off the field on third down…

Getting Donald support in the pass rush is imperative for a successful Rams defense. While Hoecht has played next to Donald down in the interior of the line, he’s only played one game outside him at edge, Week 11 before AD went down with injury. Hoecht expects Donald to be back with a vengeance.

(His return will be) Same as every year, he’s gong to be a killer. He’s going to ruin offensive periods. He’s going to be tackling guys in the backfield, swinging helmets and ruining practices… That’s why he is who he is… he turns it on and never shuts off until the end of the season. I’m excited to rush with him… be able to play off him, and hopefully put together a good pass rush.”

Last year, Hoecht didn’t get much play time as a defensive tackle. When the Rams decided to let Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis go, he made the full-time switch to edge in Week 12. Over those games, he made 36 tackles with four of those for loss. He created 12 QB pressures, nine QB hits and 4.5 sacks. Those are solid pass rush numbers for seven games at a new position. Having the offseason to complete the transition would hint at much-needed production improvement on the edge and Hoecht revealed how he went about it.

“It’s more changing how you train. At three-tech position, you do a lot of get off, twitch off-the-ball immediately. This offseason I focused specifically on more top-end speed running, more distance, because there’s going to be times when I’m dropping into coverage and I’ll have run a bit more. But I didn’t want to lose my fastball, because I’m a speed-to-power off the edge guy and that’s what I like to do. So trying to thread the needle between those two.”

Whether or not Hoecht is named starter, he will be a major contributor on defense. If he does become the go to guy at edge, it may be at the cost of his beloved special teams work. However it all shakes out, Hoecht is ready to have fun and play wherever he’s needed.

I’m always going to do whatever I can for this football team… whether that be special teams or defense… If it were up to me, I’d play every snap of offense, defense, and special teams… I have a block on offense, I have a sack and a forced fumble, I have a kick return, (and) I’ve blocked a punt. I need to kick one and throw one and then I’m good, I’ve batted the cycle in the NFL.

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