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Van Jefferson continues to earn trust

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In light of the opportunities received and rapport established in training camp with his Rams teammates, perhaps it shouldn't be shocking that Van Jefferson has capitalized on both in the regular season.

The 2020 season is only two weeks in, but Jefferson has continued to earn the trust of both teammates and coaches.

"Through the two games, I think I've done well," Jefferson said during a video conference with reporters Thursday evening. "I think there's a lot of stuff I need to improve on, things I need to get better at, and things that I can do better. But, I'm just learning every day, you know, just trying to be the best player I can be."

Entering Week 3, Jefferson has the fourth-most receiving yards (76) on the team, trailing only tight end Tyler Higbee (94) and wide receivers Robert Woods (119) and Cooper Kupp (121). Only Higbee (9), Kupp (11) and Woods (13) have more targets than him (8).

Though Jefferson has only five receptions so far, in most instances they came at critical junctures against the Eagles and the Cowboys.

In Week 1 against Dallas, the Florida product hauled in a 31-yard pass from Rams quarterback Jared Goff on 3rd and 5 from their own 48. The play set up a 31-yard field goal by kicker Samuel Sloman for a 13-7 Los Angeles lead two minutes before halftime. It was his lone reception on three targets that night, but Jefferson would be more involved the following week.

At Philadelphia last Sunday, Jefferson tied with Higbee for the second-most targets from Goff, catching four of five for 45 yards. A 21-yard connection with Goff set up a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Woods for a 14-3 L.A. lead with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.

Jefferson has been earning that trust since camp, according to Goff.

"He just shows up," Goff said, when asked why he has trusted Jefferson in such crucial moments. "He knows where he's supposed to be. He practices well. I think that's the number one thing whenever it's a quarterback-receiver relationship is trust. Trust and confidence, and I've got both of those in him. He's always where he needs to be, he's always on top of his routes, he's always sharp in his cuts. He's got great hands, he's got strong hands, he fights for the ball, and as a quarterback, if you trust your guy you're going to throw it to him."

Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell recognizes a polished rookie when he sees one, having worked with wide receiver Terry McLaurin in Washington last year. Coincidentally, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy labeled Jefferson as this year's McLaurin, and while O'Connell wasn't asked directly about those two, he can see the similarities.

"I see a lot of those same traits, as far as guys that were polished from the standpoint of route-running," O'Connell said. "But also, both of those guys – Van's been really impressive to me, just (with) his process. You just watch him, how he takes notes in meetings, how he's committed to the details in walkthroughs, and then obviously he's able to carry that over to practice. The best part has been seeing him carry it over into games and take advantage of those opportunities."

It helps, too, that Jefferson is learning from two receivers who already have a strong relationship with Goff in Woods and Kupp. Asked what he has seen out of Jefferson so far, Woods simply said: "Poise."

"Really just coming in, being poised in the moment, being a key contributor and making plays when we need him to allow us to win these games," Woods said.

With his first career catch out of the way, all that's left at this stage is for Jefferson to score his first career touchdown.

"Whenever that might be, I don't know how it will feel," Jefferson said. "But I know that, God-wiling, I get into the endzone, whenever that is, I know I'm going to hold that ball tight and ship it back to New York so my mom can have it."

Given the confidence his teammates have in him, that ball will likely be on its way to New York sooner than later.