Rams backup cornerbacks set to step up against Vikings

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Sam Shields expects to be tested if the Los Angeles Rams do not have their two starting cornerbacks available against Minnesota on Thursday night.

“That’s part of the game. Backups, hey, you gots to go at ’em,” Shields said Tuesday night.

With Aqib Talib set to undergo surgery and the availability of Marcus Peters uncertain, Shields, Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman are preparing for an expected challenge from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The three cornerbacks looked to be up to the task based on how they performed in the Rams’ 35-23 win over the Chargers on Sunday after Peters and Talib were hurt. It wasn’t a surprise considering the experience of Shields, Hill and Robey-Coleman.

Robey-Coleman has played 65 percent of the defensive snaps this season as the Rams’ slot corner. Hill started the final three games of the regular season and the Rams’ playoff loss last season. Shields made more than 60 starts during his seven seasons in Green Bay.

“We can call the same calls with those guys. In fact, we did in the (last) ballgame,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “I feel confident in those guys.”

The trio will be called upon for an extended period of time as Talib will have surgery on his injured ankle Thursday. The Rams will get a better sense of the timetable for when the five-time Pro Bowl defensive back might be able to return after the procedure, Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Peters is day to day, and McVay expects it will be a game-day decision to determine his status.

“It’s a great representation of his toughness to even still have it be a chance that he’s going to play when you look at what occurred and you talk about what that position requires and entails in terms of the movements. He’s taking steps in the right direction,” McVay said.

But Shields spoke as if he already knew he would be making his first start since Week 14 in 2015.

“Me, Troy Hill, you know, Robey, all us, we got to take care of the back end because two explosive guys out,” Shields said.

Shields missed all of 2017 because of concussions, but has been effective in spot duty for the Rams, including making an interception against Arizona. Still, the 30-year-old feels as if he has something to prove and is relishing the opportunity to show it against his former NFC North rivals.

“For me, it’s just kind of (a chance) to show the people that I still got it. I can still do it,” Shields said.

Shields wasn’t the only one expressing the notion the backups would be on a mission. Starting safety Lamarcus Joyner does not expect a secondary that has allowed 199 yards per game and two touchdown passes to miss a beat just because the two high-profile offseason acquisitions in Talib and Peters might be absent.

“I don’t know if you all heard, but we know we got two corners behind those guys that can start anywhere else in this league, including for this team,” Joyner said. “When you lose elite cornerbacks like that you still feel confident because you got another pair of great corners coming in.”

Joyner believes the biggest challenge is getting familiar with how Hill and Shields express themselves on the field together in such a short amount of time. The Rams held two walkthroughs Tuesday, with Phillips likening the early session to a typical Wednesday practice and the afternoon stretch to the Thursday of a normal game week.

Even with truncated preparations, the Rams defense is confident Shields, Hill and Robey-Coleman will be ready.

“But if they test them, they are going to get intercepted just like Talib and Peters can do,” defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “If one guy goes down, the other guys step up. They got big shoes to fill, but they’ll do it.”

NOTES: OLB Dominique Easley (knee) would not have participated if the Rams had held a full practice Tuesday and is questionable. McVay said it was hard to gauge whether Easley would play because of the limited physical work leading up to Thursday night.

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