THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Before former Eastern Washington linebacker Samson Ebukam whittled his way into the Los Angeles Rams’ first-team defense, few pundits were familiar with the Nigeria-born talent.
But even after a sophomore Super Bowl season in which Ebukam totaled 36 tackles, three sacks, two touchdowns, two fumble recoveries and an interception, the 6-foot-3, 245-pouner out of Portland believes he’s still a relatively unknown commodity.
“I’m still under the radar, honestly. But that’s just how I’ve always been,” Ebukam said at Rams minicamp earlier this month. “I just stay in my lane, but whenever I get on that field, though, I have to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Playing near the edge of a stalwart defensive line last season that included stars Aaron Donald Ndamukong Suh, Ebukam was still one of the team’s most menacing pass rushers.
Pro Football Focus –a popular website with thorough analysis of pro and NCAA Division I football – ranked Ebukam the Rams’ second-best pass rusher behind Donald.
This past spring, Ebukam earned the L.A. Sports Awards’ “Moment of the Year” trophy for his dominating performance in the Rams’ wild 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Ebukam had two key defensive touchdowns, a sack and an interception.
Dante Fowler, one of the NFL’s better pass-rushing outside linebackers, played opposite of Ebukam last season, and their interior got a boost this offseason with the signing of six-time Pro Bowl selection and former Packers star Clay Matthews.
Corey Littleton, another Rams starting inside linebacker, earned a Pro Bowl nod last season for his special teams play.
Ebukam, who had minor knee surgery shortly after a 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, believes the Rams’ offseason acquisitions will help push him more as he enters Season 3.
He also wants to see his old college teammate and EWU defensive cohort Ketner Kupp earn at least a spot on the Rams’ practice roster.
Five former EWU standouts currently litter the Rams’ offseason roster including Ebukam, undrafted rookie Ketner Kupp, his brother and two-year starting receiver Cooper Kupp, undrafted rookie receiver Nsimba Webster, and veteran practice squad center Aaron Neary.
Ketner Kupp and Ebukam are both linebackers with contrasting duties. Kupp occupies the inside while Ebukam comes off the edge or drops into pass coverage.
“We’re in different film rooms, but I told (Ketner) if he needs anything from me, I’ll help him any way I can,” Ebukam said,
Ebukam and Kupp were both on a 2016 EWU defense that clipped Washington State and advanced to the FCS national semifinals.
Kupp, who is 6-0, 225 pounds, considered himself a self-made linebacker in college, where he led EWU in tackles last season and helped EWU reach the FCS national title game.
To survive cuts later this summer, he knows he’ll have to maintain his usual lunch-pail approach
“Just knowing your job and executing. At this level that’s what you get paid to do,” Kupp said at minicamp, two weeks after signing a free-agent contract.
“I need to stay in the best shape as I possibly can, really get in the playbook and understand it, and be willing to do anything they ask me to do. Any way you can help the team, you need to do it. That’s what’s going to help you stick around.”
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