They did not want it to come because of an injury, but Davis and Kelly are ready to contribute after Malcolm Brown hurt his collarbone against Detroit on Sunday.
Coach Sean McVay said Davis, an undrafted free agent from Southern California in his second season, and Kelly, a rookie sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee, will compete to fill Brown’s role backing up Todd Gurley and on special teams.
“We have a lot of confidence in Justin and John to step up, and they’ll be needed to and they’ll be needed to do it in a hurry,” McVay said Wednesday.
Davis has carried the ball once in a regular-season game for 1 yard. Kelly has yet to make the active roster on game day. But each expressed a belief he would be able to step in for the steady Brown.
Kelly said he would bring “a little bit of swag” to the offense, while Davis was more reserved.
“That’s why I’m on the team, just in case someone goes down. Got to be right there to pick them up,” Davis said.
Kelly looked the part of the future complement to Gurley in the preseason by rushing for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Davis has been reliable in all facets of the game, with McVay praising his skills as a complete back.
One will be called upon after Brown had a non-surgical procedure to reset his clavicle and will miss eight to 10 weeks, McVay said.
McVay expects Brown will be placed on injured reserve. Such a designation would officially end Brown’s season, as the Rams have already used their two recalls to activate cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper off injured reserve.
Brown had 212 yards rushing and five receptions for 52 yards with one touchdown catch this season, in addition to his work on special teams. Despite his limited statistical impact, Brown had the confidence of the Rams to execute the offense with little drop-off from the MVP candidate Gurley.
“He’s really been a guy that I’ve been able to rely on and have just as much trust in him as I do in Todd as far as protections and being in the right place at all times, just how smart he is and how good he is as a player with the ball in his hands and everything in-between,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “We’re going to miss him, but those two guys, it gives them a chance to step up and do their thing.”
McVay doesn’t expect to change how he uses Gurley. Gurley has had at least 19 combined carries and catches in all but one game this season, the lone exception being the 54-51 win over Kansas City when he sustained a minor ankle injury.
Brown had four carries against the Chiefs, and his most extensive workloads came in blowout wins over Arizona and San Francisco.
Barring an injury to Gurley, Davis or Kelly will be limited to a handful of offensive snaps per game, with most of their activity coming on special teams.
“It really won’t change much as far as that approach is concerned,” McVay said. “It’s more along the lines of getting those two guys ready to roll and if they have to play they’ll be ready.”
Still, Davis and Kelly must be ready to fulfill every responsibility on offense. That includes pass protection, which takes on added importance this week against Chicago linebacker Khalil Mack.
“Definitely in the NFL if you can’t pass protect, you can’t play in here,” Davis said. “That was a definite focus before I made it to the NFL is pass protection, and I know we’re going against a top-tier defense and that’s got to be a priority.”
Whether it is Davis or Kelly that gets the chance to replace Brown, both players have been preparing for this scenario all season long.
“Even though I might not touch the ball, I make myself have the mindset that I’m getting the ball every play,” Davis said. “It doesn’t matter, just so I can keep my body ready, keep my mind ready for when my number is called.”
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