Countdown to Camp is a series breaking down the Rams roster by position group heading into training camp. The fifth installment examines the wide receivers.
For the last three years, depth has been a luxury afforded to Rams wide receivers coach Eric Yarber's group.
As Rams Training Camp presented by UNIFY Financial Credit Union approaches, the challenge in a current pandemic environment is to build on existing continuity and keep the quality depth going.
"Back in the day, we had Josh (Reynolds) as a No. 4 (receiver)," Yarber told theRams.com in a phone interview this week. "We had three starters and Josh was the No. 4. Josh could start for 20 to 25 teams in the NFL. He had a quality backup in Mike Thomas, and Mike Thomas had a quality backup in Nsimba (Webster). Now, Josh is a starter and we've got to find good quality backups right now. That's one of our next objectives (besides) coming out of this thing safe and healthy."
Meeting that secondary objective starts with the veteran voices. Robert Woods, who enters his fourth season with the Rams and eighth in the NFL overall, as well as Reynolds and Cooper Kupp, who both enter their fourth seasons with Los Angeles and in the NFL, bringing along new or less experienced faces.
And L.A. has a quite a few.
Nsimba Webster, one of three undrafted free agents to make 2019's initial 53-man roster, will be entering his second season with the team. The Rams selected Florida product Van Jefferson 57th overall in this year's draft, then signed five undrafted free agents – Washington State's Easop Winston Jr., Cal Poly's J.J. Koski, James Madison's Brandon Polk, Syracuse's Trishton Jackson and Maine's Earnest Edwards IV – to give them 10 wide receivers on their roster entering training camp.
"I've asked Robert, Josh and Cooper to help me get these guys ready by being leaders," Yarber said. "Show 'em how to practice, show 'em how to prepare, show 'em how to be a pro so that we can create quality depth on our quest to a Super Bowl."
Jefferson is one player who can help create the depth Yarber desires in his rotation. According to Yarber, Jefferson is "a football-savvy receiver that catches on quickly" – a reflection of being the son of a former NFL wide receiver in Shawn Jefferson, who played 13 years in the league and currently coaches the same position for the New York Jets .
"Just watching him and seeing him on film, he is a great route-runner with big-time separation skills," Yarber said. "He knows how to separate, he knows how to set DBs up to separate. If he's covered, he can use his big body or he can use his athletic ability, man. He has the talent to separate and the know-how."
Speaking of skillsets, Yarber, like Rams head coach Sean McVay, believes Reynolds is capable of stepping into a bigger role. McVay said this spring the Brandin Cooks trade was a reflection of how strongly they felt about Reynolds.
Cooks excelled in his role because of his speed, according to Yarber, but Reynolds is "deceptively fast."
"You don't think he's moving as fast as he does, but he's had one of the top-three fastest miles-per-hour times on our team in practice," Yarber said. "He's a fast guy that people don't think is fast, but he's got a big catch radius and he's got big-time quickness for a big man."
While the wide receiver room looks different and perhaps younger entering training camp compared to previous years, Yarber is confident the leadership of Woods, Kupp and Reynolds will help them maintain the group's standard.
"This should be a training camp that could be made difficult by the COVID experience, but with these guys having so much continuity in our offense, it makes this almost like seamless," Yarber said.