The Rams will play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday — and at least two more games — without their leading tackler.
Inside linebacker Micah Kiser was placed on injured reserve Thursday after suffering a knee injury during Monday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The injury is not expected to be season-ending or require surgery, coach Sean McVay said. Kiser, a third-year pro, has a team-best 77 tackles for a defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL, allowing the fewest yards per game.
Troy Reeder will start in place of Kiser, who must miss three games — against the visiting 49ers, a road game against the Arizona Cardinals and a Thursday night matchup with the visiting New England Patriots. Kiser will be eligible to return for a Dec. 20 home game against the New York Jets.
“The hope is that it’s just those three games,” McVay said during a videoconference after practice. “It was something that you even debate whether or not you wanted to do it [put him on injured reserve] because it’s kind of right in that fringe area.”
Reeder, an undrafted free agent in 2019, started eight games as a rookie. He thrived earlier this season when he started in place of Kiser, who sat out at Washington on Oct. 11 because of groin and chest injuries. Reeder recorded a team-best 11 tackles and had three sacks in a 30-10 victory.
“I do have a lot of confidence in Troy to step in and seamlessly handle the job,” McVay said Wednesday, when Kiser’s status was still to be determined. “He’s really done a great job of preparing himself for when his opportunities do come up.
“He was ready to go against Washington. I thought last year, he definitely demonstrated as a rookie it wasn't too big for him where he started a handful of games at [middle] linebacker and played a significant amount of snaps. Expect him to step in and do a great job for us this week as well.”
Reeder will start alongside inside linebacker Kenny Young in defensive coordinator Brandon Staley’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.
The Rams are limiting opponents to an NFL-low 291.9 yards per game. They are fifth in rushing defense (91.3 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (19.2 points per game) and passing defense (200.6 yards per game).
In their 27-24 victory over the Buccaneers, the Rams gave up 251 yards. Rookie safety Jordan Fuller intercepted two passes by Tom Brady, including one in the final minutes to seal the victory in Tampa, Fla.
“I felt like we stayed steady and we were able to close the game out as you would hope to against a guy like that,” Staley said of Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion. “That's certainly the ultimate challenge, is [a two-minute drill] against one of the great two-minute quarterbacks to ever play, and I felt that our guys were composed and I felt like we finished the game playing our best ball.”
The defense added depth this week when the Rams claimed end Derek Rivers off waivers from New England. Rivers, a third-round draft pick in 2017, had 1½ sacks in eight games this season before the Patriots waived him. Because of COVID-19 protocols, Rivers cannot practice until Saturday and will not play against the 49ers, McVay said.
But the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Rivers eventually could contribute as a pass rusher and on special teams, Staley said.
“Getting a bigger-body guy that can run for special teams,” Staley said.
The Rams also in coming weeks could see the return of outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, who was activated from injured reserve this week. Okoronkwo had one sack this season before he suffered an elbow injury against Washington. Okoronkwo is not expected to be ready for the game against San Francisco, but Staley and McVay anticipate he will be productive again soon.
“He's going to add a boost to us with the juice that he has coming off the edge,” McVay said.
Tight end Tyler Higbee (elbow) did not practice, and his status could be a game-time decision, McVay said. Rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (knee) did not practice. Lewis was sidelined earlier this season because of a knee issue. “It’s all related in some form or fashion,” McVay said. “But he had some swelling — we had to drain it — and then we’re kind of waiting to get some further information on his status and what that looks like moving forward.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.