THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It's their third week with the playbook for Rams rookies, so their execution when translating those concepts onto the field during an OTA session won't be perfect.
And that's fine with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
In a spring filled with the most focus they've had on true team work since 2018, LaFleur and the rest of the Los Angeles' coaching staff are doing lots of teaching with a young roster. LaFleur wants those players making mistakes now rather than later.
"You have to just kind of breath a little bit more and be patient with some things obviously, but at the same time, you got to let them (know that) this league is urgent," LaFleur said. "And you don't want to force too much down these guys, but at the same time, September is coming and we're trying to build to that point right now. So again, they're out there. You try to trim back the script just a little bit, but also, hey, we do motion, we do move around, we do change the strength quite a bit, so if we baby them too much, then when the time comes for preseason and the guys that are going to be playing in September, they're a little bit behind. So, if they're going to make mistakes, let's make them right now when we're out here on the grass just going against each other."
There are perhaps no bigger examples on LaFleur's side of the ball than quarterback Stetson Bennett and wide receiver Puka Nacua.
When Bennett spoke to the media on May 23 after the Rams' second OTA session, he said he hadn't take an 11-on-11 install rep yet, though that was to be expected given how long he'd had the playbook to that point. Instead, he was being brought along through 7-on-7 work before eventually progressing to 11-on-11 later in the week. While there have been growing pains in 11-on-11 – see the Jason Taylor II interception during Wednesday's session – it illustrates and reinforces what LaFleur wants.
"He's like everyone else. I mean, there's times he's swimming out there in terms of just how much information we're giving him," LaFleur said. "I think he's best when the ball is just snapped. All this stuff is new to him in terms of the verbiage, but when that ball snaps, you can just tell it's not too big for him. He can breathe easy when that ball snaps and he's got kind of that natural gamer to him."
The Rams are also giving a lot of information to Nacua, whom they are moving around and testing a lot early on during OTAs. LaFleur has been pleased with how Nacua has been able to handle it all.
"He's a good-sized kid. He's got a good frame to him," LaFleur said. "He catches the ball really effortlessly. He can stay grounded through the catch and so he is doing a good job with it. And particularly moving him around quite a bit, not babying him at all with the motions and the alignments and stuff like that and so he's doing a good job. You can tell, all you have to do is look at these, especially the young guys, just look at their eyes when they're in the huddle and you can tell the guys that are swimming, the guys that aren't and he definitely has a calm demeanor about himself and is fitting in nicely."
Mistakes will happen during this time for both players, as well as their first-year peers. In going against their teammates in the spring, LaFleur hopes that environment will help set a foundation that will prevent them from repeating them down the road.
"The biggest message to those guys is, 'Hey, learn from the vets that are doing it, because there's a lot of vets here that have done it at a high level for a long time, but also when you make a mistake, which you're going to make mistakes, how can you avoid making that mistake a second time, you know?" LaFleur said. "So a lot of guys out there doing some good things and a lot of good things to coach off of."