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How the Rams have kept virtual meetings engaging

The son of a teacher and a coach, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley knows the importance of capturing the attention of those who are learning from him.

For Staley, that comes in the form of an energetic approach to presenting Los Angeles' new defensive playbook. For the entire team, it comes in the form of a Netflix docuseries, guest speakers, and unusual Zoom backgrounds to keep things lively.

"I think our guys have done a really nice job of staying engaged, and the coaches as well," Rams head coach Sean McVay said on a video conference with reporters Tuesday.

McVay, Staley and the rest of the Rams' coaching staff and players have had plenty of material to work with.

ESPN's 10-part docuseries called The Last Dance, chronicling Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' NBA dynasty of the 1990s, began airing eight days before their first virtual offseason meeting. By the time those meetings got underway, four of the 10 episodes had already been aired, giving wide receiver Robert Woods and his teammates a lot to talk about. This continued through the duration of the cultural event.

"One of the biggest things we do weekly that's not really football-related is we have a discussion on The Last Dance," Woods said on a video conference with reporters earlier this month. "And really, we discuss it and talk about the mindset and team camaraderie, what we need from each other."

Besides The Last Dance, the Rams have also learned more about the mindset of a champion through former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who joined their meetings as guest speakers. In both instances, each spoke to the team for 30 minutes then spent another 30 minutes taking questions from the players.

When asked if those appearances have helped keep meetings fresh, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said "for sure" and hoped they would continue. McVay said he's looking to get Dodgers manager Dave Roberts as one of the next guest speakers.

"Having the opportunity just to listen to them talk, and at times pick from their brains, ask questions if need be, I think it's been cool," Donald said on a video conference with reporters last week. "I think a lot of players have been loving it, a lot of guys have been interacting."

And if those elements aren't enough to keep players engaged, there's always the ability to customize a zoom background to keep the discussions going.

Donald used a recent shirtless photo of himself, while left tackle Andrew Whitworth found a photo from the Elite 11 quarterback competition of Jared Goff and Christian Hackenberg for his. Whitworth picked out the photo because of the resemblance Goff bore to Squints from the movie The Sandlot.

"It's been interesting to give guys a hard time or mess around," Whitworth said on a video conference with reporters a couple weeks ago. "I've played around with changing the virtual background to guys' pictures of them when they were in elementary or high school, leaving it up there for a meeting just to bug them a little bit. You've got to find ways to keep it fun."

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