THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Wednesday of Week 2 against the Falcons, Rams head coach Sean McVay called wide receiver Ben Skowronek into his office.
Naturally, Skowronek was confused.
"Never really met with Coach McVay one-on-one, so I didn't know what to expect," Skowronek said during a video conference Monday. "And when the head coach tells you to come to his office, I don't know, I was like, 'What did I do?'"
He had done nothing wrong. In fact, McVay was coming to him with an idea: Playing him at fullback.
"We kind of went over everything, and I was excited," Skowronek said. "Went out to practice that day, went smooth, and then it was something that we built on throughout that week. And then obviously in the Falcons game, we had some success with it, so this past week, getting more reps at it, more reps in practice, more reps in games. Just keep getting better and better at it each day."
While the sample size is still small – Week 3 was only the second game displaying that wrinkle to the offense – the early returns are promising.
When Cam Akers broke through for a 14-yard touchdown run against the Cardinals, it was Skowronek clearing out linebacker Zaven Collins that helped clear Akers' running lane. And overall, that added wrinkle to the Rams' offense has helped their running backs average 4.1 yards per carry over the last two games.
"Ben, he do a great job," Rams running back Darrell Henderson Jr. said last week. "He's tough, he's physical, and he knows his assignment. When he leading the way, there's going to be a collision. He going to clear the way for you, so shoutout to Ben."
Asked what he thought led to McVay approaching him with that role, Skowronek pointed to that same physicality, and showing it throughout the end of last year and training camp this year. One example: The sift block he had on Akers' 14-yard run in midway through the first quarter of the NFC Championship game against the 49ers.
Skowronek said there hasn't been a huge adjustment for him going from the perimeter and slot blocking he's accustomed to as a receiver to blocking as a fullback. While there are some nuances to it, the carryover of what's asked of the wide receivers in the run game makes it a smooth transition. Being inserted for blocking safeties and nickel defensive backs throughout training camp and last season has also helped.
"There's some stuff obviously that's different, like the paths that I have to take through the holes, that I'm learning," Skowronek. "I was thinking a lot about it last week, and now it's starting to become muscle memory for me."
For McVay, tweaks like this to the offense – like implementing the jumbo packages for the run game last December – is something the coaching staff works through every week, figuring out the best way to take advantage of players' skillsets.
McVay said he's sure this won't the the only thing that ends up being a different way of accentuating those skillsets, whether that be through personnel groupings or using certain players to create the illusion of that personnel grouping of an 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end) look. That they are able to is a credit to both Skowronek and the offensive coaching staff.
"It kind of goes back to collaboration, but it takes the players to be able to fit and you certainly can't do that unless you have somebody like a Ben Skowronek that has the toughness, the physicality, the overall football IQ and intelligence to be able to play a bunch of different spots because he's playing receiver, he's playing fullback in a lot of those two-back looks," McVay said. "There's certain plays that we ask him to do, certain some of the roles that are similar to a tight end. It takes the player number one, and then creative coaches that have an open mind of different ways to be able to utilize guys."