The Rams' offseason program is just about complete, with next week's mandatory minicamp the final event before everyone gets away for summer vacation. Here are six key takeaways from head coach Sean McVay's first OTAs.
1) Goff looks in command of the offense
According to his coaches, quarterback Jared Goff has picked up Los Angeles' new playbook quickly and well. That's come through during practice, as he's delivered confident, accurate passes over the last few weeks. Whether it's deep balls, or timing routes to the sidelines, Goff looks, understandably, much farther ahead from where he was a year ago as a rookie.
"I think he has done a nice job improving every single day and that's what's going to give us a chance," McVay said.
With the first-team offense and defense lining up against one another at this point in the offseason, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said he's observed significant progress from Goff as well.
"He's much more calm in the pocket. He's able to get in and out of the huddle and get the ball where it needs to go. He's definitely putting the ball where it needs to be. He's definitely had a lot of good throws this offseason here," Ogletree said. "So we just hope he continues to get better, improves his leadership some more, and just really takes over the offense."
There's still plenty more work to be done as the Rams go into minicamp next week and training camp in late July. But Goff looks like someone poised to take a significant step forward in Year 2.
2) Defensive transition appears to be going smoothly
By now you surely know the Rams are moving their base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under coordinator Wade Phillips. But based on the way coaches and players have described Phillips' scheme, there haven't been many complications in making that adjustment.
"I mean, it's not much different," Ogletree said. "The calls are different, and that's really about it. Everything else is still pretty much the same."
"The main thing is — it's just words. It's terminology, you know? Everyone somewhat runs the same coverages," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "But it's just maybe what he's been used to calling 'apples' the last five years, well now it's 'oranges.'"
Watching practice, there's a lot of chatter on defense in order to make sure everyone is lined up correctly before the play begins. Much like Goff being in command of the offense, Ogletree has done well to gain a solid understanding of the new defense as its leader.
"On our side of the ball, I always say the middle linebacker is no different than the quarterback," Barry said. "I walk through my meeting room every morning at 6:30 in the chow hall, and there's 'Tree in the meeting room watching film — every single day. We've talked about consistency as the truest measure of performance — he's consistent every single day."
3) There's a lot of competition at wide receiver
It's no secret that the Rams have plenty of room to improve at wide receiver. L.A. signed Robert Woods as a free agent and he's consistently made catches over the last three weeks. But with Tavon Austin not able to fully participate with a wrist injury, the club was able to take a look at more players on the roster.
Check out photos from Day 9 of the Los Angeles Rams organized team activities. Photos by Hiro Ueno.
Mike Thomas made a strong impression, using his speed to stretch the field and make a number of deep receptions from Goff. Pharoh Cooper and Nelson Spruce also displayed plenty of the potential they showed as rookies at this time a year ago, particularly on intermediate routes.
But if there was one standout player at the position, it's rookie Cooper Kupp. With his route-running ability and reliable hands, Kupp showed time and again during OTAs why he set so many records at Eastern Washington. Plus, his vaunted high football I.Q. is already coming through in practice with a few veteran moves at the line of scrimmage.
There's a lot of time between now and the start of the regular season, but Kupp looks like a rookie who can make an impact early.
4) Brown making a mark at right tackle
There have been a number of changes along the Rams' offensive line since the end of last season, particularly with veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan now on board. With Rob Havenstein now settling in at right guard, Jamon Brown has been taking snaps at first-team right tackle. According to McVay, Brown is competing with Greg Robinson for that starting spot and it appears the competition will go into training camp.
"I think he's done a nice job and we're continuing to try to find what the best five guys and what that combination will be," McVay said of Brown. "He certainly has put himself in the mix and he's playing at a very high level right now and we've been pleased with what we've seen from him."
McVay has called Brown an "aggressive, physical player" who has grown under the tutelage of offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
"He's a guy that's really taken in to consideration all of the little things that coach Kromer's talking about with the technique and you're seeing it translate and we've been pleased with Jamon so far," McVay said.
Brown played both right and left tackle at Louisville, so he has experience to draw upon. But he and the rest of the offensive line will have to show their progress and cohesiveness once the pads come on during training camp. And that's still a long way away.
5) Dealing with absences
A few players have missed this voluntary portion of the offseason program, most notably defensive tackle Aaron Donald. But whenever there was an absence, McVay stressed that this portion of the offseason program was voluntary.
"I think the biggest thing is that you just want to make sure that there's clear and open communication," McVay said. "Those guys that have missed, sometimes it's been exactly what we wanted, sometimes it hasn't. I think we just keep communicating with the player our expectations, our standards. For the most part, all of these guys have really done a great job with that.
"As a coach, you're always going to want the guys here, but you also understand the framework of the way that some of this stuff is setup in the offseason program," he continued. "I think the guys have really done a good job of kind of understanding, 'If I'm not here because of some other things that do come up, let's let it be known.' We're flexible with these guys as well."
Unlike any other portion of the offseason program, next week's minicamp is mandatory. So we'll see if the Rams have everyone on the field.
"I think you always hope for [full participation]," McVay said of minicamp. "Certainly, I think each day you're kind of ready to take on new challenges and things come up. But, that's our hope, that's our expectation and I guess we'll find out next week."
Extra Point) McVay's attitude and energy seems to be rubbing off on the team
Whenever a team undergoes a coaching change, a storyline that often appears is whether or not the organization's culture has changed as well. From being around the team throughout the offseason program, it seems like that has happened.
The Rams' OTAs were full of energy and competition. And there's a strong sense of 'We' — as in the team — being more important than any individual accomplishment or accolade.
"It's been a great change so far," Goff said at the beginning of OTAs. "I think coach McVay and his staff have implemented that and I think everyone has bought in. Honestly, I think from the leaders on the offensive side and the leaders on the defensive side have raised expectations and raised the standard. With that everyone seems to follow and so far I believe it's been a really good change."