THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sony Michel‘s recent emergence as the Los Angeles Rams‘ go-to running back comes with fortuitous timing after coach Sean McVay said Monday that running back Darrell Henderson Jr. will be placed on injured reserve because of a right MCL sprain.
Henderson, who recently has dealt with a quadriceps issue and also spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list, suffered the injury at the end of a 17-yard carry in the fourth quarter of a 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that clinched the Rams’ fourth playoff berth in five years and moved them into first place in the NFC West with two games remaining in the regular season.
Henderson could return in three to five weeks, according to McVay.
“Poor Darrell can’t catch a break,” McVay said. “He has a great run and it was one of those deals — it was kind of a freak way that he went down on a good run.”
While the loss of the third-year pro is a blow to the Rams’ running back depth, McVay expressed optimism that Cam Akers would be available Sunday when the team travels to Baltimore to play the Ravens (8-7) at M&T Bank Stadium.
“There is a possibility that he plays this week,” McVay said. “He looked really good last week in practice.”
The Rams activated Akers to the roster last Saturday, only two days after he was designated to return from the non-football injury list and five months after the second-year pro suffered a tear to his right Achilles tendon in a private workout ahead of training camp.
Despite his activation, Akers did not travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings, with his move to the active roster motivated by incentives and an opportunity to earn credit toward his pension.
“He’s earned the right to be able to get on this roster and it looks like there’s a possibility of him contributing as soon as this week actually on the field,” McVay said.
Along with Henderson, the Rams also will place rookie linebacker Ernest Jones on IR. Jones, who has emerged as a key playmaker since being promoted to starter in Week 8, will undergo surgery for a left high ankle sprain.
“Ernest was really just starting to hit his stride,” McVay said about Jones, who has two interceptions, four pass deflections and a sack. “Hopefully he’ll get a chance to maybe come back this year.”
Linebacker Travin Howard came on after Jones was sidelined in the first quarter against the Vikings and recorded an interception in the end zone.
At running back, Michel — a first-round pick in 2018 by the New England Patriots who was acquired in a preseason trade — played sparingly this season until he was moved into the starting lineup in Week 13 after Henderson injured a quadriceps.
He has since ignited the ground game, displaying a knack for tackle-breaking runs, and has taken over as the Rams’ leading rusher, with 728 yards.
“He runs really hard,” wide receiver Cooper Kupp said. “You can feel the speed and the power that he runs with.”
In four starts, Michel has produced two 100-plus rushing yard performances, becoming the first Rams player to run for more than 100 yards twice in the regular season since Todd Gurley in 2018.
“Sony, really for the last month, he’s been a workhorse,” McVay said. “He’s been one of the standouts for us when we’ve gone 4-0 in the month of December.”
Coming off a significant injury, it remains to be seen how much Akers will be able to contribute.
McVay indicated the Rams would not hasten his return due to losing Henderson.
“Want to make sure that we’re smart, checking all the boxes,” McVay said. “But I mean, this guy is an impressive guy. He sure looked like he was capable of potentially playing last week. But just with the minimal opportunities we’ve had to practice and how you want to be smart about going about that process and procedure — those are independent of one another.”
Akers finished his rookie season as the Rams’ leading rusher with 625 yards and two touchdowns.
He also produced standout performances in the postseason, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown in the wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks, then followed with 90 yards and a touchdown in the divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.