THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – They were in this situation before this spring and summer, and also during the second half of the 2022 season, so the circumstances aren't entirely unfamiliar to the Rams' wide receivers and offense as a whole.
That doesn't make playing without Cooper Kupp – out because of a hamstring issue – on Sunday agains the Seahawks any less of a challenge. But the position group and unit as a whole are ready for it.
"Cooper was out some of training camp as well and we had some guys have to come in there and step up and make plays for us and they've done that," quarterback Matthew Stafford said after Wednesday's practice. "Through joint practices, practicing against our defense, we've had a lot of guys step up and make some great plays and (I have) total trust in everybody that's put out there to go out there and make plays. I'm excited for those guy's opportunities, obviously like I said, disappointed for Cooper but at the same time I'm excited about the guys that we have going out there and trying to make some big plays."
Both qualitatively and quantitatively, Kupp impacts the Rams' offense in different ways.
The 2021 triple-crown winning season, when he finished with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns, and the 2022 season, when he still led the team in catches (75), receiving yards (812) and receiving touchdowns (six) despite being limited to nine games because a season-ending ankle injury, are evidence of that. Schematically and conceptually, there is also a lot of Los Angeles' passing offense that goes through Kupp.
"I try to play the game as cleanly as I possibly can and throw the ball where the coverage dictates," Stafford said. "No question about it from a skill position point, there's a lot of stuff that goes through Cooper where he may be designed to be the number one or if we get a certain pressure we're going to get to this play and let him go do what he does best. Obviously, he's not going to be out on the field but my job really doesn't change much. It's, hey, go out there and throw the ball where it's supposed to be thrown accurately and on time and let those guys do what they do because we've got some talented guys on the outside that can make plays both down the field and also after the catch."
Two of the players who displayed that throughout training camp and joint practices with the Raiders and Broncos were wide receivers Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell.
Jefferson said everyone is better when Kupp is on the field, whether it be talking to them in the huddle before the play or calling out coverages while they are on the field. That role of previewing things while on the field is something Jefferson said the receivers have taken ownership of, and was also one of the main things the receiver group took away from when Kupp wasn't participating in practices this spring or summer.
"Cooper's very, as you can tell, intellectual about everything, and you know how punctual he is about everything," Jefferson told theRams.com. "So I think everyone's taken on that role of just helping each other, if someone has a question, just giving them the answer, and Coop did a great job of that. We're going to go out there with who we roll with, and be ready."
"I think as an offense, the knowledge changes, the communication is up even more, because Coop, he demands so much control and he's a leader out there," rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua told theRams.com. "So when we're out there, he's communicating, putting everybody in the right spot. It's like having another quarterback in the wide receiver room. That's why I've been blessed to have the veteran guys in this offense communicating at a high level so we can all be on the same page."
As for Atwell, he was learning all three receiver positions in training camp. Stafford said during training camp the best thing Atwell was doing during that time was his mastery of the offense, and that Atwell knows exactly where he fits in at all three of those receiver spots.
"I feel like I did a good job at all three positions and I learned everything I could," Atwell told theRams.com. "It just makes it easier for me to move around and know the offense more."
Wide receiver Ben Skowronek showed the ability to do some of the same things in the offense Kupp could last season. For example, when Kupp was healthy, Skowronek took a jet sweep 17 yards for a touchdown in Week 6 against the Panthers last season. He was also a very willing run blocker, as last season's on Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins to spring running back Cam Akers' 14-yard touchdown run in Week 3 last season.
"When (Kupp)'s not out there, you get experience, and the NFL, it's a league where you for the most part need experience to succeed," Skowronek said. "So getting those reps is a good thing for a lot of guys."
The time during training camp when Kupp was sidelined gave the Rams' other receivers the chance to move around and play different positions, and Stafford said they did a "great job."
Just as they did then, the most important thing as they work around Kupp's absence is to be themselves with their play.
"Coach Cooper, I mean, he's out there with a clipboard telling those guys every little secret he knows and trying to help those guys out, so it's a team effort," Stafford said. "And then at the same time, just let those guys be themselves. Puka, Tutu, Van, Ben, whoever it is, you're not going to go try to be Cooper Kupp, just go be the best version of yourself you can be. That's what we all have to do, go out there, compete our ass off and you go try to get a win."