THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Wide receiver Robert Woods noticed a new but familiar voice during Wednesday's practice as the Rams offense was going through team drills.
The possibility of having offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth back for Saturday's Wild Card playoff game against the Seahawks alone was "huge," Woods said, because of his play, ability to anchor the left tackle position and be involved in the run game. However, even just his presence at practice already felt like a difference-maker.
"Hearing his voice in the huddle, first snap, being the leader, pushing the tempo for our offense, it was kind of refreshing to hear him in the huddle, and hearing that tempo and that urge to pick up that pace, having someone else push and get this train, get this offense rolling," Woods said during a video conference Wednesday.
Whitworth's strength and determination have him on schedule to return on Saturday, in what was the target week for him to do so. Despite tearing his MCL and PCL in Week 10 against the Seahawks, he managed to recover after missing seven games and put himself in position to play – and potentially return to the starting lineup – at the beginning of postseason play.
"It's been a lot of work to get back (and) ups and downs, obviously, anytime you're injured, but it feels good now," Whitworth said during a video conference Wednesday. "I feel confident and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
That recovery process was "a grind," according to Whitworth. It included collecting and applying various pieces of medical equipment at home and later pregame workouts at SoFi Stadium.
Whitworth said the MCL and PCL "are your best stability ligaments." Rehabilitation involved evaluating multiple key indicators of progress as a result.
"Trying to figure out stability-wise, what you're feeling, and then function-wise, what seems a little bit weaker or what if you're off-balance, or if you feel different when you do certain movements, whether it's going forwards, backwards or side-to-side, and really where that pain or discomfort or balance is coming from where you feel a little off-balance," Whitworth said.
Whitworth also said healing is one of the most important aspects of the process, because if the ligaments aren't healing back stronger, it's not going to allow you to play.
"It's kind of a combination of developing the muscles back and working your butt off that way, but also really doing as much as you can to make sure there's healing going on and that process is keeping up with all the other things that you're doing," he said.
While the 15-year veteran feels ready to go get out on the field and play Saturday, he also acknowledges there are still "boxes to check" before that officially happens.
One of those boxes is getting through a week practicing and doing all the things necessary to prepare to play, something that has been "hard" to do because of the COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. For example, he said he "would've loved to had an opportunity before the game" to get some reps if someone was inactive, but those protocols don't allow a player to do that. Thus, his only chance to check that box is by returning to practice, which he did just last week.
"There's some boxes to check off and still to make sure you can do everything, and then to see how it responds (Thursday) from practicing (Wednesday), and the next day from practicing (Thursday)," Whitworth said. "So obviously it's not like they're big hurdles, but they're hurdles to get through. Right now, everything feels great and we're still on board."
Whitworth was activated to the 53-man roster on Thursday, and Rams head coach Sean McVay also said Wednesday "there's a good chance" of Whitworth starting on Saturday "if he's able to go," and that Whitworth was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. McVay said he doesn't expect any setbacks after talking to Whitworth on Thursday and that Whitworth "is feeling good."
"We will take it a day at a time, but if he's feeling good and the practice reflects what we're hopeful and what we anticipate, then we'll expect to see Andrew out there," McVay said Wednesday.
Rams defensive lineman and fellow team captain Aaron Donald knows how valuable Whitworth's leadership and presence is to the team.
"You get a veteran guy that's been playing this game a long time, and he's a leader," Donald said. "If you can get him on the field playing, that's definitely a plus for us. As long as he's healthy and he feels good, I know he's going to go out there and he's going to dominate."
Whitworth admitted that once he takes the field, it will likely be an emotional experience.
"As I told some of my friends, I'm gonna do my best to not cry for the whole first half, because I'm gonna be emotional," he said. "But you know, it's one of those things, man, I can't wait. I can't wait for the opportunity to get out there, just to be with everybody and let it all hang out and see what happens."
The Los Angeles Rams were back on the practice field in preparation for the Wild Card matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Check out the top shots from Wednesday's practice!