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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just one week ago, Robert Rochell was a rookie cornerback hoping to contribute on special teams while he waited for the opportunity to make plays for the Los Angeles Rams’ defense.

When the Rams (4-1) visit the New York Giants on Sunday, there’s a good chance the fourth-round pick from Central Arkansas will spend his fifth career NFL game as a starting defensive back for Los Angeles.

“I never thought I would be in this situation this early in my career,” Rochell said. “But rookie is just a title.”

Rochell is attempting to seize an opportunity for which he might not really be ready. David Long’s inconsistent play thrust Rochell into a prominent role for the Rams last Thursday in Seattle, where starting cornerback Darious Williams incurred an ankle injury that makes it fairly certain Rochell will be playing a whole lot more for at least the next three weeks as Los Angeles’ No. 2 cornerback.

Rochell had little time to prepare for his sharply increased role on defense in Seattle during a short week, and he had plenty of ups and downs against the Seahawks, who obviously wanted to text his moxie. Rochell realizes that’s the nature of being an inexperienced NFL defensive back, and he refused to back down.

“When I got the notification of what was going to happen, I had to right then put my big-boy shoes on,” he said. “I had to be ready. I had to stand up for this team and all the other guys who are going out there day in and day out with me. We all represent each other, so I just tried to go out there with a big heart and a clear mind.”

Rochell committed a 47-yard pass interference penalty that led to the Seahawks’ first points when he tackled Tyler Lockett instead of letting him catch a long pass. Rochell later gave up a TD pass to DK Metcalf on which he admitted making a technique mistake.

But Rochell also settled down in his role, and he broke up a pass from Geno Smith to Lockett in the end zone with 3:09 to play, stalling the Seahawks’ failed comeback in the Rams’ 26-17 victory.

“As a DB, you’re no better than your last play,” Rochell said. “So the last play, I had to delete it and I had to get ready for the next one, because my next one could be the best play, you know? It only takes one.”

Rochell got the chance to play more because Long struggled as the Rams’ nickel back against Arizona in Week 4 during the Rams’ only loss. Williams then sprained his ankle last week in Seattle, and the Rams placed him on injured reserve Tuesday.

Rochell already overcame several setbacks this season: He had surgery on his left wrist in July, and he’s still wearing a cast that affects his ball skills. He then missed a key block on special teams during Week 2 in Indianapolis, which apparently contributed to the fact he didn’t play at all in Week 3.

Los Angeles seems comfortable trusting Rochell to play most of the snaps vacated by Williams, who is likely to be out for only three weeks, coach Sean McVay said. Williams, a waiver wire pickup who played his way into a starting role with LA, made the clinching defensive play with a diving interception in the Rams’ win over the Giants last season.

“I like the way Rochell handled himself,” McVay said. “He’s a mentally tough kid. He’s unfazed. … Certainly wasn’t perfect, but his competitiveness, his toughness, all of those things that make you a football player, I thought that was demonstrated.”

Instead of signing a veteran free-agent defensive back or swinging one of the midseason trades for which GM Les Snead is justly known, the Rams appear to be ready to face the Giants with Rochell and Long alongside 2020 All-Pro Jalen Ramsey.

“It might not be one guy” replacing Williams, McVay said. “It might be kind of a committee approach. Those things are predicated on, ‘Are you playing two corners? Are you playing three corners? Do you get into some of your subgroupings where it might even be more than that?’ So we’re going to explore all measures.”

NOTES: DT Aaron Donald missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury. The Rams said their three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year banged knees with an opponent in Seattle and was still sore, so the Rams decided to rest their defensive cornerstone. He intends to play Sunday. … K Matt Gay was limited in practice by soreness in his ankle. He is also expected to play Sunday.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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No. 12 Memphis poised to chase title with No. 1 class, vets

Coach Penny Hardaway believes he has just the right mix for Memphis to chase the Tigers’ first national men’s basketball championship.

“What I’ve learned this time is to mix the veterans with the young guys,” Hardaway said. “You have the No. 1 recruiting class, but you have some really good veterans to have that mix of older and younger, and that just makes the blend of that is so much better this time around.”

That combination is a major reason the Tigers start the season ranked No. 12 nationally.

It’s their highest preseason ranking since being No. 11 in the opening poll of the 2011-12 season. The last time Memphis started a season ranked, they were 14th in 2019-20 with Hardaway’s first top recruiting class.

That was when Hardaway had James Wiseman, now with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and the Toronto Raptors’ Precious Achiuwa in a class featuring seven freshmen. Hardaway says even if he had Wiseman for more than the three games he played, that 21-10 season would’ve been different and still challenging.

Hardaway has plenty of experience this time with junior guard Lester Quinones, a member of Hardaway’s first No. 1 recruiting class, a trio of seniors led by forward DeAndre Williams and guard Alex Lomax and guard Landers Nolley II, in his second season after transferring from Virginia Tech.

“We have expectations that are higher than anybody else’s expectations in the country about us,” Hardaway said. “We we know what’s at stake at all times.”

THE FRESHMEN

This No. 1 recruiting class of six freshmen is led by 6-foot-8 guard Emoni Bates, who reclassified from 2022. He originally committed to Michigan State before changing his mind. He joined his former AAU teammate Jalen Duren, another five-star recruit, in Memphis in late August.

Bates is the player projected as the No. 1 overall pick when he becomes eligible for the NBA draft after he turns 19 in 2023. He has impressed Hardaway with his work ethic and how hard he works in the gym.

“He has a lot to prove,” Hardaway said. “I mean, the kid has been in the spotlight since he was 12 … And there’s always been a spotlight on him, and I think he feels the pressure to be able to produce every single time and what that has done to him personally has driven him.”

IMMEDIATE HELP

Hardaway also added a trio of transfers. Sophomore forward Earl Timberlake spent his freshman season at Miami, guard Tyler Harris is back at Memphis after spending last season at Iowa State and Memphis native Chandler Lawson is home after playing the past two seasons at Oregon.

NCAA DROUGHT

Memphis is trying to end an NCAA Tournament drought stretching to 2014, and this is a program that’s played in three Final Fours, the last in 2008 with the banner in a box for NCAA punishment. More punishment could be coming over the Wiseman case.

For now, Hardaway has Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown with his three Final Four berths and four-time NBA All-Star Rasheed Wallace on his coaching staff to push the reigning NIT champs to the title the Tigers really want.

“The pressure’s on,” Hardaway said. “We know that and we’re looking forward to the challenges of what it takes to get to the NCAA tournament and then advancing once you get there.”

TOUGH SCHEDULE

Hardaway wants to test his Tigers, and he has a tough nonconference schedule.

They host Saint Louis, Western Kentucky and Murray State. Memphis also plays in the NIT Season Tip-Off against Virginia Tech with a second game against either Xavier or Iowa State.

The Tigers will play four Southeastern Conference teams, visiting Georgia and Ole Miss while hosting Alabama. Memphis plays No. 18 Tennessee on Dec. 18 in Nashville. They play No. 15 Houston, the preseason pick to win the American Athletic Conference, twice in the final six games of league play.

“You have to play good teams to win it all,” Hardaway said.

Memphis opens the season Nov. 9 hosting Tennessee Tech.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/College-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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