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Practice Report 10/5: Offense at the Quarter Pole; Donald Remembers

Posted Oct 5, 2016

The Rams are looking for continued improvement out of its offense. Plus, what DT Aaron Donald thinks of what one critic said about him in 2014.

After the first quarter of the season, the Rams have amassed a 3-1 record — despite not playing their best football. While Los Angeles has done better offensively over the last two games, players and coaches both acknowledge there is plenty of room for improvement as the team heads into Week 5 against the Bills.

“We’ve done some good things. It’s like coach said the other day, there’s some good things, there’s some bad things, there’s some things we need to correct,” quarterback Case Keenum said after Wednesday’s practice. “What’s exciting is we’ve found ways to win, and we’ve still got room to grow offensively in a lot of areas — myself included.”

Keenum has completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 825 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Boras said he’s seen good things from the Houston product, and is looking for the quarterback to expand on those positive traits.

“He’s getting better,” offensive coordinator Rob Boras said. “He’s very cerebral, he’s getting us in the right plays, and he’s making plays. He’s making plays with his arm. He made some plays with his feet the other day as well. He’s extending plays for us. And I’ve talked about it many times, he’s a natural leader. And that’s one of the things [at] that position that is so critical to the whole offense’s success.” 

It helps that Keenum has shown solid chemistry with wideouts Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. Britt has averaged just over 70 yards per game, with 18 receptions for 281 yards. The wideout has also dramatically improved his catch percentage (receptions over targets) from 50 percent in 2015 to 69.2 percent in 2016.

“I think both mentally and physically, it’s as good as I’ve seen Kenny,” Boras said. “His preparation out here, his focus — and it’s carried over. He’s playing extremely hard.

“He’s made plays for us in every game — and critical plays on third down, which has been our challenge as an offense to stay on the field,” Boras continued. “I think we’re all very pleased with where Kenny is and the arrow is pointing in the right direction.”

As for Quick, Keenum said Wednesday he’s been around to see a lot of what the wideout has had to overcome in the last three seasons. Because of that, it’s gratifying for the quarterback to be a part of Quick’s success.

“I remember Brian when I first came to the Rams — seeing Brian Quick and not really knowing about him until I saw him in person, and just to see the explosiveness that guy can make, and the big plays that guy can make,” Keenum said. “Then when he had got injured, obviously coming back, so I’ve seen kind of Brian in all ends of the spectrum. To see him getting back to a dominant level of football play has been really, really cool. I’m really excited to be the quarterback that’s throwing him the football.”

Plus, tight end Lance Kendricks has been a reliable target for Keenum, catching 11 passes for 128 yards.

“I just think Lance is one of those guys who’s going to continue to get better for us, and hopefully he’ll continue to make some plays down the field,” Boras said.

There is, however, still the issue of the Rams run game — which for a variety of reasons has not been as effective as the club would like.

“We’re taking a look at everything right now,” Boras said. “Obviously, we’re determined to get it right and get better.”

There are ways for Los Angeles to mitigate the issues, one of which is making plays on the outside with the its receivers. And running back Todd Gurley can also be one of those players who gets involved in the passing game, as he displayed in Arizona last week.

“Since he’s been here, we’ve always said that Todd has unbelievable ball skills,” Boras said. “Like any young player, he’s getting better, because it’s not something he was asked to do a whole lot at Georgia. But he has natural athletic ability, natural skills. And, obviously, any time we can get him in space, he can make things happen. So it’s obviously something we want to continue to build on.”

If the Rams can keep improving and get more consistency out of their offense, the club will have a good opportunity to stack more wins on its strong start to the season.

LIKE THE NORTH, DONALD REMEMBERS

Those of you who read this space are probably familiar with the fact that defensive tackle Aaron Donald went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2014 after recording 9.0 sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, 12 quarterback hits, and 17 tackles for loss.

Some of you may also remember that Rex Ryan — now the head coach of the Bills, but in 2014 the head coach of the Jets — took exception to Donald receiving the honor over New York defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

“If it kept him out of the Pro Bowl because some guy had X-amount of sacks, and that guy can't hold his jock as a player, to be honest with you, I think that's kind of strange to me," Ryan said in Dec. 2014 via NJ.com.

If you didn’t forget those comments — and they sure were memorable — neither did Donald.

“Yeah, I remember them. I remember when I heard about it. And I didn’t forget about what he said,” Donald said Wednesday. “But, it is what it is. It ain’t no big deal to me. But I remember. I remember what he said. What did he say again?”

A reporter reminded Donald, “He said you couldn’t carry somebody’s jock strap.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” Donald replied, nodding his head.

“That’s kind of disrespectful to say,” Donald added. “But it is what it is.”

For his part, Ryan has been doing his best to walk back those comments as much as he possibly can.

“I’ve made a lot of dumb comments in my days, that’s probably right up there at the top,” Ryan said on his conference call with L.A. media on Wednesday. “But what it was, was I was disappointed. We had a guy — Sheldon Richardson had a great year, never made the Pro Bowl and one of our coaches had said, ‘This guy can’t hold his jock.’ So I go ahead and say it — I never even saw him play, but I knew he was a rookie, so rookies shouldn’t go to the Pro Bowl. So, anyway, after I’ve seen this kid play, I’m like, ‘Oh boy!’”

Oops.

“Mark that down as one of the dumbest ones — and I’ve had a couple of them, maybe one or two dumb ones, that one right there is right at the top,” Ryan continued. “But, obviously, he’s a great player.”

So great, in fact, that Ryan compared Donald to a Hall of Famer.

“He really is a fun player to watch and I love his effort,” Ryan said. “I guess the nearest thing to him is John Randle that I can remember — a guy with just explosiveness and power. Really a rare guy.”

So what did Donald think of hearing Ryan now feels his “jock” comment is one of the dumbest he’s ever made?

“He still said it,” Donald said.

But according to the defensive tackle, just because he remembers doesn’t mean he has some kind of extra motivation for this game.

“I’m just going to go play football — fly around and try to make some plays,” Donald said. “That’s all that matters.”

And when you have Donald’s track record, who needs extra motivation anyway?

EXTRA POINTS

— The Rams listed five players on their Wednesday injury report, four of whom were not available to practice.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt (thigh), safety Cody Davis (groin), defensive end William Hayes (ankle), and defensive end Robert Quinn (shoulder) did not participate in Wednesday’s session.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers (hip) participated in practice on a limited basis.

— For the third time in the last 20 weeks, Donald has been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Donald amassed 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and had four quarterback hits in Los Angeles’ 17-13 victory over Arizona.

“It feels good,” Donald said. “Anytime you’re complimented for the work you do on the field, it’s a good feeling. But, I’ve still got a lot more work to do. And we won. So, [it’s a] big deal.”

The defensive tackle was twice named NFC Defensive Player of the Week in 2015. He received the accolade for his Week 1 performance in the Rams’ victory over the Seahawks after recording 2.0 sacks in the contest. Donald then received it again for his Week 14 performance in the Rams’ victory over the Lions, during which the defensive tackle recorded a career-high 3.0 sacks in one game.

— Finally, the latest episode of Between the Horns is up and available to download via SoundCloud or iTunes.

In this episode, I chat with D’Marco Farr about what worked in the Rams’ victory over the Cardinals, what the offensive line can do to improve, how Los Angeles will have to defend Buffalo on Sunday, and much more.

You can check out the podcast — which drops every Wednesday — in the embed below, and on iTunes by following this link here.