Many of the St. Louis Rams’ offseason moves have been trumpeted and applauded during the recent three-game winning streak, but it’s one of the Rams’ most subtle additions that best exemplifies why the Rams are currently .500 with three games to play.
Defensive end William Hayes didn’t receive the same fanfare as fellow former Tennessee Titan Cortland Finnegan when he signed with the Rams in early April, but the 27-year old from Winston-Salem State University has played a large role in the defense’s success this season.
Hayes was originally a fourth-round pick by the Titans in 2008. He played in eight games in his rookie season before starting 11 of 16 in 2009. That year, Rams head coach and former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher’s second-to-last season in Tennessee, Hayes had 51 combined tackles to go with four sacks and two forced fumbles.
This season, Hayes has matched that career-high in sacks while serving primarily as a backup to left defensive end Chris Long. Hayes has done particular damage during the team’s three-game winning streak, its first since 2006. Hayes recorded a sack in Arizona in week 12 before notching 1.5 sacks against the San Francisco 49ers in the Rams’ overtime win.
“I think (defensive line coach Mike Waufle) is doing a good job preparing me for every week,” Hayes said. “We’ve got a good group of guys. Chris (Long) gives me pointers, Kendall (Langford) … it’s just working good. I didn’t do as much in Tennessee, but I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Hayes, who checks in at 272 pounds, has also subbed in at defensive tackle on passing downs. He said he’s enjoying the expanded role within the defense – and said he’s not just limited to defensive line, either.
“At the end of the day, it’s just adding more to my repertoire,” Hayes said. “Which is a good thing. It’s better if I can do more to help the team. If they need a free safety I’ll play it, too.”
Hayes and his linemates are a big reason the Rams now find themselves in the playoff hunt. The Rams defense is 10th in the league in yards per game and is tied for second in sacks. The addition of Hayes, along with the continued development of players like Eugene Sims and Jermelle Cudjo, has helped make the Rams’ defensive line one of the deepest in the league.
“We pride ourselves on being a deep unit,” Long said. “William Hayes, I don’t think of him as my backup. I think of him as my other D-end, my other left end. We kind of feed off each other and William – William and Eugene (Sims) could start on a lot of teams. I just think that’s great for us to have that depth.”
Hayes’ addition might have gone relatively unnoticed, but his impact has been anything but.