Todd Gurley Has Special Rookie Season

Posted Jan 12, 2016

Running back Todd Gurley went from being a new kid on the block to one of the team's leaders in his first campaign with the Rams.

When the 2015 regular season started, it took Todd Gurley three weeks to get his first carry and four to get his first start. Rams nation collectively held its breath as he took his first touches since tearing an ACL and was able to exhale through an outstanding rookie year.

Gurley ended the regular season as the league’s third-leading rusher, accumulating 1,106 yards through 13 games. He was also the first Ram since Steven Jackson in 2012 to eclipse 1,000 yards and first Rams rookie to hit the same mark since Jerome Bettis in 1993.

“I felt like I did pretty good, and my biggest thing is keeping up with my body,” Gurley said. “But I feel like I have a lot of things to improve on. I just have to come into the offseason with a good mindset and work on everything from pass protection to catching and all types of stuff.”

The Pro Bowler continued to etch his way into Rams history by becoming the franchise’s first rookie to run for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns since Eric Dickerson in 1983. It has to be unsettling for opposing defenses that Gurley said he has much to improve.

“I can definitely get a lot better,” Gurley said. “I am looking forward to the offseason and resting my knee up a little bit and get it back stronger. And hopefully I won't have to keep on top of it like I had to every week.”

Gurley’s numbers are not only a reflection of his athletic ability, but also his work ethic to rehab the knee and play at a high level less than a year removed from major knee surgery.

Throughout OTAs and training camp, the rookie was held out of contact drills and wore a yellow cap on his helmet to remind other players to steer clear during live sessions. In his first several games, Gurley suited up with a bulky knee brace, which he wasn’t too fond of.

After his first start in Arizona, he joked that the brace was the reason defensive back Tyrann Mathieu caught up to him after busting a 52-yard run off the left side. That day in the desert sparked a month-long streak in which Gurley piled up 566 rushing yards, the most in NFL history for anyone through his first four starts.

“I keep bringing up that ‘s’ word, which is ‘special,’” head coach Jeff Fisher said after Gurley accomplished the feat. “He’s obviously getting a lot of people’s attention.”

On multiple occasions this season, even after 100-yard rushing performances, Fisher said Gurley was still hindered by the knee. A full offseason without significant focus on rehab will allow Gurley to perfect other parts of his game.

“As I said early on when he got started, ‘Just wait another year. He’s not 100 percent,’” Fisher said.

For a guy whose name echoed inside the Edward Jones Dome on multiple occasions, Gurley never seemed to reach any type of complacency. Whether he had rushed for 159 yards or 19 on a given week, he always stayed after practice catching extra passes or sharpening his routes out of the backfield.

“Todd's been working extremely hard,” veteran linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It's been all hard work and dedication since he started practicing, and it was good to see him get his confidence.”

After establishing himself through his first four starts, Gurley’s presence on the field forced teams to game plan around him. And typically throughout the season, the team went as Gurley went, finishing with a 4-1 record in games where he rushed for 100-or-more yards.

In Week 14 against Detroit, Gurley went for 140 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, quarterback Case Keenum noted the rookie’s effect on the whole team.

“It gives everybody a lift,” Keenum said. “You saw the fans and how they reacted to that. (No.) 30’s pretty special with the ball in his hands, so we’re going to figure out a lot of ways to get him the football. It was great to watch him again today. He’s continued to get better. It’s pretty scary how good he can be.”

Most if not all his teammates had similar things to say about him at some point this year. But it never came from Gurley himself. He quietly went about his business, candidly more concerned about wins than rushing yards or records. After completing the stint of four games with 566 rushing yards against the 49ers, Gurley said:

“It means a lot and those things are cool, but our main focus right now is just to keep winning, racking up these wins every game. It was just a great job by the offensive linemen and receivers just blocking the whole way.  I’m just trying to play my game, keep my shoulders square and see what I see and just hit it, so I’ve got to give credit to those guys.”

Some were skeptical of the Rams taking Gurley 10th overall in last year’s draft because of his knee. His rookie campaign on the field speaks for itself and, off the field, the Rams have invested in a leader for many years to come.

“I can’t compare him to anybody I’ve ever coached or defended,” Fisher said. “He’s just different and he’s going to be special.”