The abrupt end to the Rams' 2023 season was understandably still fresh on the mind of 9-year veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein when he spoke with reporters on a video conference Tuesday morning.
Havenstein has seen the highs and the lows of that success across his career, whether it be losing a Super Bowl or winning one, the season ending with a loss in the playoff opener, narrowly missing the playoffs or not making the playoffs at all. He has also seen the second-youngest roster in the NFL make the playoffs.
His message to that young team going to the offseason, then, is simple.
"Don't underestimate the work it takes to get to this point," Havenstein said. "Obviously when you have success early on, making the playoffs your rookie year, you can almost be clouded with how hard it is to do that. I think the guys put in enough work this season to turn this ship around, and at the end of the day, make the playoffs. But there's a lot of guys that have full careers in this league and don't ever get a chance to do that."
A team that featured 14 rookies and multiple new faces on its overcame a challenging 3-6 start to the season by going 7-1 over its final eight games to clinch that playoff berth, with first-year players like Steve Avila, Byron Young, Kobie Turner and Puka Nacua emerging as immediate contributors. Turner tied Aaron Donald's franchise rookie sack record with nine and led all NFL rookies in sacks with 9; Young had the second-most with 8.
Nacua, meanwhile, broke the NFL rookie receptions (105) and receiving yards (1,486) records; both he and Turner emerged as strong candidates for Rookie of the Year awards on their respective sides of the ball.
"Learning how to practice, in the NFL, learning how to lift, how to kind of go about it the right away, there's obviously going to be growth in that," Havenstein said when asked about Avila specifically. "And 100 percent, I think Steve is that type of guy to go ahead and take the learning opportunities and continue to do things a little better each day. And that's one thing you saw with Steve, he built a great foundation."
Havenstein said he told the rookies when the Rams were going through that last stretch of games toward the end of the regular season that they've been playing football for almost a year and a half straight, factoring in the end of their final collegiate season, training for the NFL Scouting Combine, training for all-star games, training for Organized Team Activities, and then training camp.
Thus, this offseason is an important one because it gives them a chance to figure out their routine and what schedule works best for them.
However they and other young players decide to structure it, what matters most is putting in the necessary work Havenstein spoke about, and applying what they learned from this past season.
"As a lot of people take this time to reflect, myself included, there's a lot of confidence that we can draw from this past year," Havenstein said. "I've always been a big believer in, whenever a new year does start, last year is all experience. There's never picking up right where you left off just because of the nature of the NFL, there's going to be different players, different coaches, you might do things a little bit differently to adapt to a changing NFL game. But it's all experience, and so the more of that you can get in a positive way, I think that's what (head coach) Sean (McVay) created – a culture, this year especially, of just going about things the right way and just working on playing better football, being a better football player, being a better teammate and keeping everything a positive environment around."