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Rams Training Camp Battle: Nickel Corner

  • Justin Melo
  • July 24, 2023
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The Los Angeles Rams are counting on ascending talents to take sizable steps forward in their secondary. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is tasked with finding pro-ready contributors within a new-look group. Rookie cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson could receive an opportunity to start at the nickel position. Hodges-Tomlinson will face competition from second-year undrafted free agent Shaun Jolly.

A blockbuster trade that sent six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Miami Dolphins shook up the overall makeup of this group. There aren’t many proven playmakers on this Rams’ defense outside of Aaron Donald. The secondary is particularly inexperienced. All but one cornerback on the Rams roster is 25 years old or younger. 

Ramsey’s departure could thrust sophomore cornerback Cobie Durant into the Rams’ No. 1 role. Durant appeared in 13 regular-season contests for the Rams as a rookie. Durant recorded 22 total tackles and five pass breakups and displayed high-level ball skills by coming away with three interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks saw a passer rating of just 76.3 when targeting Durant in coverage last year, per Pro Football Focus.

Durant spent the majority of his rookie campaign playing in the slot, but he is expected to kick outside in year two as the Rams’ most talented cornerback. The expectation is that Durant will be flanked by Robert Rochell, Derion Kendrick, or recent veteran free-agent signing Ahkello Witherspoon. Another intriguing positional skirmish should commence at outside corner.

That leaves Hodges-Tomlinson with a terrific opportunity to claim the nickel spot. The No. 182 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, the 5-foot-8, 178-pound Hodges-Tomlinson is viewed as a slot-only cornerback due to some physical limitations.

A Jim Thorpe Award winner in 2022, Hodges-Tomlinson is a natural talent that thrived in man coverage at TCU. Hodges-Tomlinson mirrors opposite receivers with oily hips and smooth footwork. Short-area burst allows Hodges-Tomlinson to compete in the slot on a snap-by-snap basis. Morris should be excited about the possibilities.

Hodges-Tomlinson is a gifted athlete, which should help him seize an opportunity throughout training camp and the preseason. Hodges-Tomlinson ran a 4.41 at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Waco, Texas native also had a 93rd-percentile 132-inch broad jump and an 83rd-percentile 39-inch vertical.

Jolly projects as Hodges-Tomlinson’s biggest competitor. The Rams signed Jolly onto their active roster from the Cleveland Browns practice squad in September and then re-signed him in April of this year. Jolly didn’t earn any defensive snaps as a rookie but did manage to capture a minor role on special teams.

Like Hodges-Tomlinson, Jolly is an undersized cornerback (5-9, 180) that’s confined to a slot-only role. Jolly was extremely productive at Appalachian State. He recorded 113 total tackles, 25 pass breakups, 6.5 tackles for loss, and six interceptions across four successful seasons. He’ll be anxious to play his way onto the field as a sophomore, and he’ll view the current depth chart as an opportunity.

The Rams completely flipped their secondary on its head this offseason. Mass exits from last year’s unit will provide unlikely heroes like Hodges-Tomlinson and Jolly with a chance to compete for a starting role. Hodges-Tomlinson possesses every trait necessary to keep proving his naysayers wrong.

Written By

Justin Melo