The Rams have yet to take a playoff snap but it’s already a postseason of comebacks.
Safety Eric Weddle, who came out of retirement this week, and running back Cam Akers, who recovered from July Achilles surgery and played in the season finale, are poised to help the Rams when they play the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.
It might be tempting to dub them comeback kids were Weddle and Akers both in their 20s.
But Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl player who played the last of his 13 NFL seasons with the Rams in 2019, is 37. Akers is 22.
“It’s crazy to say this,” Weddle said Thursday during a videoconference, “but it’s as if I never left.”
The Rams called on Weddle because safety Jordan Fuller suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. Also, safety Taylor Rapp has been in concussion protocol this week.
Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess are other safeties on the roster, but the Rams reached out to Weddle because of his experience and ability to pick up and execute concepts quickly.
“One of the smartest, most cerebral players I’ve ever been around,” coach Sean McVay said Thursday during a videoconference.
Weddle, who lives in San Diego County, said he has been enjoying retirement, coaching his son’s youth football team and driving all his children to sports practices and games. He also has been closely following the Rams, often texting players and coaches after games.
Weddle said that when he received a call from Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris — who coached Weddle in the 2007 Senior Bowl — he thought it was to talk about the Cardinals. But then Morris pitched him on the possibility of returning.
Weddle said that he and his wife, Chanel, tell their children to be prepared for opportunities when they present themselves. So, Weddle followed that example.
“This is by no means me having an itch,” he said. “It was just an opportunity of a lifetime.”
“At the end of the day, it’s in me. Like instincts take over.”
Eric Weddle, on his ability to play after two years of retirement
Weddle, currently on the practice squad, went through a walkthrough on Thursday. His role for the Cardinals’ game will be determined, McVay said.
Is McVay concerned that a retired 37-year-old player two years removed from his last NFL snap will be able to perform?
“Can you simulate playing the type of speed and things like that? No,” McVay said. “But he’s fresher than he’s ever been at this point in his career probably too.”
“If I didn’t feel like I could go out there and be what I’m expected to be I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he said, adding, “I feel amazing. … I don’t have the wear and tears.
“I feel strong because I still lift, I’m still in great shape. … Now, timing, tackling and all that stuff could be behind. But at the end of the day, it’s in me. Like instincts take over.”
So, Weddle will be ready for whatever role the Rams need as they try to beat the Cardinals and take a step toward playing in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
“I feel like I’m meant to be here in this moment,” Weddle said.
Akers’ big moment came last Sunday in the first quarter against the 49ers, when he caught a pass from Matthew Stafford. It marked the first time since the Rams’ divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers last January that Akers had touched the ball in a game.
Less than six months after suffering an injury that routinely sidelines athletes for at least a year, Akers was back.
“It’s a blessing to be able to come back from something so fast, to do something that’s never been done,” Akers said Thursday during a videoconference.
Akers suffered the right Achilles injury while doing a jumping exercise before training camp. He said he heard a pop and felt a tug in the back of his leg.
“I knew exactly what was wrong,” he said.
He said he called his mother and cried. Two days later, he said, he was planning his comeback.
“All my emotions kind of just were geared to, ‘What am I going to do to get back,’ ” he said. “The fear of not coming back the same me was all the motivation I needed.
“The fear of not coming back or not being better than I was before I got hurt. … I had to re-train my mind, my thought process and just attack.”
After Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed surgery, the Rams training staff helped Akers work toward his return.
His goal of returning for the playoffs felt reachable about a month into his rehabilitation, he said.
“I knew it was realistic because I was doing a lot of stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t be doing after this injury, he said. “I knew my goal was not far-fetched.”
Akers, backing up starter Sony Michel, played 13 snaps against the 49ers. He rushed for three yards in five carries and caught three passes for 10 yards.
He was not worrying about his injury — “I was thinking about how I could have broken a tackle,” he said — and considered it “a blessing to be able to come back and have no hiccups.”
Stafford was impressed.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of that guy,” he said. “And that’s an unbelievable feat that he’s been able to just be available in any regard, and he looks as good as he ever looked.”
Akers said he felt like he’s back to 100% but is looking forward to proving that.
“Just go out there,” he said, “and make plays.”