1) McVay remains in total command for Year 2
Head coach Sean McVay has always been effective in leading the Rams — most notably illustrated by the club’s 11-5 record, division title, and McVay winning AP Coach of the Year in just his first season on the job. But even so, it appears McVay is more comfortable in his role as he begins his second season.
McVay has talked of wanting to maximize every moment possible, and that was clear from the efficiency of the team’s OTAs. From having multiple drills ongoing at the same time, to the tempo of each session, Los Angeles squeezed plenty out of the 10 OTAs and minicamp practices.
But more than that, the Rams’ success in 2017 has had an effect on the way newly acquired players view McVay upon entering the building.
“It’s not like when he came in here we didn’t support him, or we didn’t buy in. It’s just the fact that now, this is his team,” defensive lineman Michael Brockers told therams.com. “A lot of these guys are his guys that he brought here. So he’s in control. He’s always been in control, but he’s the man now. Everybody knows. The rookies know — he’s the guy.”
There’s certainly much expected from the Rams in 2018. But with McVay at the helm and his process focused on daily improvement and daily excellence, Low Angeles has a strong chance to navigate through them successfully.
2) Defensive additions fitting in just fine
With the three headline-grabbing acquisitions of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Ndamukong Suh, many offseason questions surrounding L.A. focused on how McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would manage the strong personalities.
Phillips and McVay have addressed such questions throughout the offseason, largely dismissing any concerns. Both men talked of a philosophy of working with players rather than managing them.
But the 70-year-old defensive coordinator probably said his best quote on the subject earlier this week.
“I like personalities because they’re independent enough to do things on their own and they’ve shown they’re independent enough to be great players too,” Phillips said. “You don’t want a player who does everything you say, you want guys that have some initiative. We tell them to do this and do that, but Marcus Peters a couple plays last year … he’s playing man to man and they throw it to another player but he intercepts it.
“That’s what I’m talking about, [you can’t say], ‘No you cover your man,’” Phillips continued. “Well, if you intercept it when they throw it to somebody else, that’s great. Those are the kind of guys they are. You want them to do all the right things and help them to be a better player, but you don’t want them to lose that initiative. That’s what they have and that’s the way I’ve always coached.”
3) Brandin Cooks is, too
When the Rams traded a package that included their first-round pick to the Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, they knew they were getting a player with speed and dynamic playmaking ability.
That was displayed time and again during Phase III, as Goff hit Cooks with a number of deep passes during OTAs.
McVay noted this week just how much of a weapon Cooks can be in the club’s offensive scheme.
“He can obviously win short, intermediate down the field, you’re not limited in any way that you can use him,” McVay said. “He’s a guy that you can give jet sweeps, reverses to — so he’s a really versatile player. You see why he’s had the production and I think it’s also a credit to him being as conscientious as he is with how quickly he’s picked things up.”
But what McVay failed to mention is how Cooks is a comedian. Recently, quarterback Jared Goff called Cooks a “sponge,” given the wide receiver’s willingness and ability to learn. So when a reporter referenced Goff’s quote to Cooks this week, Cooks kept a straight face and deadpanned this response:
“I would have to say, you know, my favorite show is SpongeBob SquarePants, so for me just watching him how he soaks up all that water while he’s over there under the sea,” Cooks said. “I try to emulate that in my game and being a student of the game as well.”
He assured reporters he still watches SpongeBob to this day.
4) Goff is an offensive leader
There have been plenty of articles written and videos produced about Goff emerging as a leader for the offensive unit after his successful 2017. The signal-caller himself has talked about how much being in the same system under McVay and the growth in the relationship between coach and QB has added to his sense of comfort.
And it’s also been easy to notice how Goff has taken command of the group, going over to discuss previous plays with receivers and linemen on the field at practice. That’s in addition to his strong play throughout the offseason program, making accurate passes in the rhythm and timing of the offense.
But wide receiver Cooper Kupp was definitive when discussing Goff and his leadership qualities during OTAs, essentially saying that questions and reports are beating around the bush a bit too much.
“I think it’s time just to stop that and say it how it is — he is a leader of this team,” Kupp told therams.com. “He is our quarterback and he leads this offense. It’s time to put those away and call it for what it is. He is a leader and guys respect him. They want to play for him. He’s grown into that and has commanded it.”
Of course, Kupp is always going to be biased toward his teammate. But those aren’t empty words from the young wideout.
5) There will be competition at linebacker
When training camp rolls around in late July, the Rams won’t have many unsettled position groups on offense or defense. But due to a few injuries, the Rams could have an open spot or two at linebacker.
Cory Littleton and Ramik Wilson took the majority of snaps at inside linebacker during OTAs and minicamp, with Littleton as the unit’s signal-caller. It’s not a position Littleton had done before, but appeared to adjust to it well, according to McVay and Phillips.
Second-year outside linebacker Samson Ebukam also appears to have the inside track on a starting role, receiving compliments from his coaches for a strong offseason program, too.
Inside linebacker Mark Barron and outside linebacker Matt Longacre were limited to work on the side during the offseason program, as both were still rehabbing injuries. Phillips noted this week Barron could also potentially be the defensive signal-caller once he’s back on the field.
Morgan Fox was making the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, but will now be out for all of 2018 after suffering a season-ending knee injury during Phase III. Phillips said Fox was working toward a starting role.
Rookie outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo could challenge for that spot on the outside, as could fellow rookie Justin Lawler. Given all the injuries at OLB — including to Okoronkwo, who missed all of Phase III but should be back for training camp — Lawler received the majority of first-team reps opposite Ebukam.
As the club is currently constructed, this could be a particularly competitive group in August.