It’s been a while since we’ve been able to watch the Rams offense and defense at the same time on the same practice field.
The last time was early February in preparation for Super Bowl LIII. And while names and faces have departed and arrived since then, the core of the team is largely the same — as is the club’s ultimate goal.
With Sean McVay now entering his third year as Rams head coach, here are five takeaways from the first three OTAs.
1) KUPP’S RECOVERY
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp has been an integral part of the Rams’ offense since his arrival in 2017. He suffered an ACL tear in Week 10 of last season, but is on the mend and appears on track to play to start the regular season.
“I’m taking it day-by-day,” Kupp said this week. “It’s just about attacking this week, attacking the day as best as I possibly can. And I feel good about where I’m at.”
“I know Cooper is itching to get involved. He’s like a kid standing on the sidelines that just wants to be able to grab a ball and go play. So he’s making great progress,” McVay said.
Aside from doing rehab work on the side with trainers, Kupp was involved in some aspects of practice — like the club’s jog-thru 11-on-11 periods during the week. That’s a good sign, as Kupp can likely expand what he does on the field over the course of the next few weeks, gearing up for training camp in late July.
2) INTEGRATING THE NEW PIECES
Even without pads, it’s easy to see why the Rams wanted to add veterans safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews to their defense.
Weddle was all over the field in Los Angeles’ three OTAs over the course of the week, picking off a pass in 7-on-7 on Thursday. His communication skills are also readily apparent, as he calls out little adjustments pre-snap that can make a difference. He also takes time after plays to go over whatever just happened with members of the secondary.
As for Matthews, he has the versatility to line up as a standard outside linebacker on early downs, and then to be a sort of wild card in known-passing situations. It’s hard to get an exact read on things when players are without pads, but as a crafty veteran, Matthews knows how to beat blocks up front and pressure the quarterback. Especially playing in the same front as defensive tackle Aaron Donald and edge rusher Dante Fowler, Matthews could have plenty of opportunities to get to the QB.
3) DONALD’S PRESENCE
It seems sort of strange since he’s the two-time defending AP Defensive Player of the Year, but this is the first time that Aaron Donald has attended OTAs since McVay took over as head coach.
“It’s nice having him around this time of year. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed him,” McVay joked on Monday.
The defensive tackle — who turned 28 on Thursday — has been setting the standard when it comes to work ethic and performance.
“He brings that intensity to the D-line. He’s pushing us in the weight room, just to get better,” fellow defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “I appreciate that he’s out here because that’s a big-name guy. Usually you see them, they’re doing their own thing. But he’s out here working, working with us and getting better — so we appreciate that.”
4) GOFF TO WOODS CONNECTION REMAINS STRONG
Over the last two seasons, quarterback Jared Goff has targeted wide receiver Robert Woods 215 times — significantly more than any other receiver. It’s warranted, as Woods has undoubtedly emerged as one of the better wideouts in the game.
That chemistry shined bright throughout the week, with Goff and Woods connecting on a number of completions, particularly in 7-on-7 drills.
Just on Thursday, for example, Goff connected with Woods on a deep pass down the left sideline, and then on a deep out to the right sideline during the same period.
Talking to Woods following Thursday’s practice, he said one of the biggest things he’s trying to work on during Phase III is picking up yards after the catch. Obviously there’s no tackling and no pads on at this point, so Woods equated it to somewhat like flag football. But, he said, if corners aren’t touching you, then they wouldn’t be able to tackle you. So that’s where he’s looking to make tangible improvements.
5) WHAT ABOUT THE ROOKIES?
In many ways, L.A. gets its rookies involved rather quickly. The first-year players arrived last week, just as the Rams were wrapping up Phase II of the offseason program. Now, some are getting their feet wet with the first team at the highest level.
Over the course of the week, safety Taylor Rapp got some time in with the first defense in certain packages, particularly in 7-on-7 work. He made a nice pass breakup in the middle of the field on Tuesday. Fellow safeties Weddle and John Johnson could frequently be seen checking in with Rapp, making sure he was up to speed.
Check out what jersey numbers the rookies will be wearing. Numbers are subject to change.
Running back Darrell Henderson also picked up some 7-on-7 snaps, catching a couple passes out of the backfield. And nose tackle Greg Gaines had a few reps on the defensive line over the course of the week as well.
As the rookies continue to learn their respective playbooks, it’s fair to expect that they’ll be worked in more.