That Ben Skowronek was on the field and in position to make a critical 15-yard catch on the Rams' game-winning drive against the Ravens last Sunday was not by accident.
The Rams rookie wide receiver and seventh-round draft pick has emerged as a key and trustworthy part of that rotation as the Rams close out the regular season and head into the playoffs.
"It's been awesome," Skowronek told theRams.com in a phone interview Friday. "My expectation for myself was always to get on the field, both in the special teams phase of the game, but offense as well. I feel like I was picked late just because of pre-draft injury. But so far this year, I've had an opportunity to play in both phases. It has been a lot of fun, there's been a big learning curve for both phases, but just having the mindset every week of just getting better."
After recovering from a preseason forearm injury, Skowronek made his debut in Week 3 against the Buccaneers, primarily playing on special teams with 10 of his 12 total snaps coming in that phase, the other two on offense.
However, as attrition mounted in the wide receiver room with injuries to fellow rookies Tutu Atwell and Jacob Harris, the departure of veteran DeSean Jackson and the season-ending ACL injury sustained by Robert Woods, Skowronek began to add more offensive responsibilities to his plate and has been entrusted with playing multiple receiver spots.
"Offensively we do have the luxury of a lot of formations," Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell said on Dec. 19, as the they dealt with personnel uncertainty due to players being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list that week. "If we sat on this call right now, and went through all the variations that we can line up and play offense as as a group, I think you guys would be put through the wringer a little bit trying to really understand that, and that's why we do what we do from the spring – building it little by little so that if we do need to make a formation this instead of that, the guys know, they adjust. Cooper (Kupp), Odell (Beckham Jr.) or Van (Jefferson) line up in different spots. And then I think one of the great things we've seen is Ben being able to really play multiple spots in our offense. That allows us to really activate him where and when we want. He's continuing to thrive and make plays and it's been really fun to watch."
Added Rams head coach Sean McVay on Wednesday: "Because we played in a lot of situations where we're playing with three receivers at a time, he ends up adding a fourth receiver that can really supplement all three spots as a way of kind of giving those three starters a blow."
Starting out on special teams was somewhat expected, as Rams general manager Les Snead following Day 3 of the draft said Skowronek was "special teams projected." However, Snead also praised Skowronek's blocking ability and accompanying physical traits – an important part of Rams' wide receivers responsibilities in the offense that certainly has helped him see the field with that unit.
That learning curve has also been helped by working closely with Kupp, who this week praised the "incredible job" Skowronek has done coming in and learning the offense, as well as the detail and and speed which he's playing with. All of which, according to Kupp, is allowing Skowronek to play faster and think less and play without fear of making mistakes – all important signs of progress.
"I thought filling in for Van on a couple things where Van was out a couple of days of practice (last week), but being able to come in, be as detailed as he was – obviously you see the stuff, making the big play there on the last drive, being able to get Odell open on the game-winning touchdown," Kupp said. "But the stuff he was doing before that – blocking, the speed that he was (at) in terms of pushing down the field and opening guys up underneath, he was doing some really good stuff for us."
Collectively, it has translated to games like Week 15 against the Seahawks, where he had five catches for 42 yards – both season-highs – in a 20-10 Rams victory. Or Week 17 against the Ravens, when, three plays after hauling in that 15-yard grab, he won his route to create the necessary space for Beckham's catch to convert on 4th and 5 from the Ravens 12-yard line, then executed his route on the next play to help set up Beckham's go-ahead touchdown catch.
"(I) think the big word you used there is 'trust,' and I got a lot of trust in this guy," McVay said Monday. "The way he goes about his business - the way that he's learned from Cooper, from Odell, from Robert Woods, from (wide receivers coach) Eric Yarber and (offensive assistant) Chris O'Hara – he's really, as a rookie, he's very mature beyond his years. The game makes a lot of sense to him. (He's) really smart, conscientious, and he is tough as hell. He can run. He's got a lot of great traits. I'm really excited about Ben Skowronek. I think he did a great job really asserting and establishing himself on special teams. And then you're just saying, 'Man, this guy's got a chance to be able to really contribute.' I thought he made a big catch on that last drive. That was a big play. (I) thought he really played well without the ball. And then you mentioned it, on the touchdown he does a great job of being able to win on his release, which kind of got a natural pick for Odell."
In a nod to that maturity, Skowronek said doesn't view himself as a rookie anymore – which makes sense, having logged 155 offensive snaps and 178 special teams snaps across 13 games played.
For the rest of the season, he knows different approach is required of him as he maintains that trust.
"It's Week 18 now, you know? I need to grow out of that rookie mindset, kind of treat everything like a vet, and that's kind of what the coaches have been preaching to me," Skowronek said. "For me, (my goals for the rest of the season) is to get better every day, get better every week and just help this team win games and make that run towards the ultimate goal."
Look through photos of Los Angeles Rams players on the practice field as they prepare for a showdown at SoFi Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers.