The LA Rams held their usual post practice press conferences Thursday afternoon, as Aaron Donald, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris spoke to the media about their expectations of this season and how they’re preparing for the Chicago Bears.
The Rams open their season at home on Sunday Night Football, and they’ll be hosting the Bears at 5:20 PM on NBC. Here are 7 takeaways from what the coaches and Donald had to say ahead of the game.
The Rams may be on the verge of a running back by committee approach again
Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said he likes all three options at running back.
(00:13) “I think what makes that group a real positive for us right now is the fact that we feel like we’ve got three guys with similar skill sets that are versatile. Can help us in the pass game, can help us in protection, but also when it’s time to pound the rock and get downhill and run behind their pads, they can do that.”
O’Connell praised Darrell Henderson, stating the Rams think he can be a feature back but the versatility of the group, including recently acquired Sony Michel and rookie Jake Funk, will allow LA to go with the hot hand or rely on specific running backs in certain situations.
On expectations of Matthew Stafford in his first game leading LA
(2:55) “I expect him to be that same steady force that he’s always been as a starting quarterback since day one in this league. He’s got a lot of experience to really call upon, but at the same time it’s going to be his first opportunity running out as our guy and I think there’s not one guy in the locker room that’s not excited about seeing him do that and lead us.”
Even though 2021 will be Matthew Stafford’s first year as a Ram, O’Connell emphasized that both sides of the ball recognize him as the leader on offense, among other players. The second year offensive coordinator noted there’s a reason why Stafford will have a gold “C” on his jersey, indicating at least four previous seasons serving as a team captain.
Introducing your 2021 LA Rams team captains. pic.twitter.com/rCOrMT13Xo— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 2, 2021
On Stafford’s impact on the receiving core
(12:45) “I think that’s been the coolest part…Obviously you’re excited for a guy like Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson: veterans. But at the same time, the growth that I’ve seen from Van Jefferson, because of that dialogue with Matthew every day, and really our whole receiving core.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that O’Connell mentioned Kupp first. The majority of reports and highlights since the Rams started training camp have featured the “Stafford to Kupp” connection. This could be a career year for Kupp.
O’Connell added that all five eligible receivers must work as if they are the primary receiver on every play and it’s the quarterback’s job to be right.
Raheem Morris on Allen Robinson is a focal point of the defensive game plan
(18:35) “You talk about Allen Robinson, a premiere receiver in this league for a long time. He does some things very, very well. He’s a great isolation player. He’s a great player on third down. He’s been a great player for a long time on two different teams now….It’s nice to have a player like a Jalen Ramsey, to be able to have a ‘gotta have it’ player on defense that you can match up with him.”
Morris made it clear that Ramsey will not travel with Robinson every play, adding that both Darious Williams and David Long, Jr. will get their opportunities to cover the Bears’ top receiver.
One of the sneaky tidbit here is the mention of Long as the third corner. Many assumed (myself included) that safety Terrell Burgess would get the first crack at covering the slot, but Long appears to be the guy for now.
On if the defense won’t get caught by a surprise appearance from Justin Fields
(20:40) “I think about it a lot, particularly because of my relationship with (Bears offensive coordinator) Bill Lazor…We were at Cornell University together and Ricky Ronnie was our starting quarterback and we were able to use a guy named, Keith Ferguson came in. He was able to go out and run some of our wildcat stuff. He could throw the ball a little bit and I know Bill Lazor well, and I’m sure he’s getting those guys ready to do some of those things that he did way back at Cornell.”
If the Bears decide to use rookie quarterback Justin Fields in any special packages, the Rams defense will be prepared.
Morris cited defenders like Justin Hollins, Leonard Floyd, and Aaron Donald as the type of athletes that should be able to potentially limit some zone reads and designed quarterback runs.
Aaron Donald has a trip to the Super Bowl on his mind
(01:55) “Me being able to have the opportunity to go to a Super Bowl and get to experience that motivated me to, you know, want to get there and win one. That’s the only thing I’ve been chasing, only thing I want to accomplish that I feel I didn’t yet.”
The three time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has already had a Hall of Fame career. Watching the interview, it’s easy to see Donald’s focus shift once he’s asked about a Super Bowl. It was obvious how much getting back to the big game means to him, especially remembering him breakdown in tears after the loss to the Packers in the second round of the 2020 playoffs, where he clearly played injured.
Facing mobile quarterbacks is nothing new for the Rams
(03:35) “A lot of these quarterbacks now [are] mobile in this league anyway….If anything, you just got more of a mobile guy that can move a little bit better, as far as when it’s time to run it…Whatever they bring or whatever they throw at us, we’re preparing for it.”
Echoing Coach Morris’ statements, Donald hinted the Rams have practiced and studied as if Fields will be in the game at some point. After hearing Morris and Donald speak about being prepared for whatever Chicago may bring to the table, it’s clear that they expect Fields to play. Hopefully, Fields is playing in the fourth quarter, facing an insurmountable lead.