After an off season of big changes for the Los Angeles Rams, OTAs are the fans first glimpse of how L.A. shapes up for the upcoming training camp and season. More importantly, it’s Sean McVay’s first chance to get prospects and veterans together and assess how to mesh the individuals into a whole.
And there were big changes, indeed. The national sports media has crafted a narrative that the Rams “all in” approach has come back to haunt them. The coaching staff was almost entirely rebuilt, major injuries needed to be rehabbed, and big names stars were either purged in a fiscal moment of clarity or forced their way out of town. The Rams hired 10 new coaches to teach and mold a depleted roster that was restocked by 14 drafted players another 26 undrafted rookies.
As OTAs reached their conclusion, McVay took to the lectern in video press conferences on May 13 and 15 to relate his views on how the preseason training process was working itself out. A few things have to be kept in mind. First, the workouts are voluntary for veterans, except for a three-day mandatory minicamp, so the Rams incumbents participation is hit and miss. Second, with the rookies and youngsters getting the lion’s share of reps and being moved all around the offensive and defensive formations, trying to project starting lineups or rotations is moot. And finally, McVay doesn’t break much news in interviews and generally gives all his players a pretty good shine. Here are some of the highlights.
Does the narrative that the Rams won’t compete in 2023 motivate McVay?
“I think you’re aware of it. I think you want to be motivated by being in the moment and being as good as we can possibly be. And I know this, there’s a lot of things we can learn from when you draw on experiences... We got to go play the games and so there are a lot narratives written. There’s a lot of narratives that were written before last season that maybe thought we were going to be better. That didn’t work out the way that it did, and so whether that matters or not, it doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is how we go about our business every day. I don’t think you want to be naïve to the fact that our players (and) coaches see that... but we’re motivated by the fact that, hey, let’s go try and help each other realize our highest potential. Let’s be steady in the midst of adversity, let’s handle it the right way... it’s about making sure you’re enjoying it, but continuing to compete to the best of your ability with that mental and physical toughness that we want, and I think you’ll see that on display this year.”
On what the Rams want to achieve in OTAs
“ I think just continue to build on a lot of the foundations that have been set up to this point. We’ll continue to add things here and there situationally, but what you want to see is just good, crisp execution (and) good communication on both sides... There’s been good energy, there’s been good communication, (and) there’s been good competition. Seems like we came away healthy. We’ll get some guys back healthy once we report for training camp (July 25)... I think we got some really good film to be able to coach off of. And especially in some of these full speed settings within the parameters of OTAs, has really been good for us.”
Building good habits with such a young group
“It’s huge and it’s not exclusive to players. It’s for coaches too because you get competitive and you get caught up in those moments and whatever happened the previous snap, you got to be able to move on, reset yourself and stay nice and neutral... You want to create good stress, because that’s where great growth can occur... in a lot of instances, that communication, that dialogue, that poise we’re asking these guys to demonstrate is not exclusive to players.”
Which rookies have stood out?
“I think I’ve been really pleased with the class in general... Puka Nacua is a guy that's definitely stood out... I’ve been really pleased with Steve Avila... another guy like Mike McAllister has played a lot of snaps up front and he’s done a really nice job on the offensive line being able to move around... I think Kobie Turner, on the defensive side of the ball, he’s done an amazing job. I’ve really been impressed with just his professionalism. He shines... Desjuan Johnson has stood out. Whether it’s Byron (Young), Ochaun (Mathis), you look at Nick Hampton, three rookie draft picks from the outside linebacker spot. I think outside linebackers coach has done an outstanding job in general, really, with a lot of those rookies. But Byron, incredible athleticism. He looks like he’s chiseled out of granite... plays with a relentless motor. He’s conscientious and coachable as hell... but I think all of those guys have done a great job.”
Having Matthew Stafford healthy and throwing in workouts
“Oh, it’s night and day... I don’t think I realized it or anybody, and he would never say it because he’s so tough, the amount of pain he was working through, how limited he was, and he’s a special player... He’s a mentally, physically tough competitor. He elevates everybody around him... to have our quarterback out here, the command... the way he elevates... his communication skills, its been huge for us. He makes a significant difference, he’s our guy...”
Dealing with all rookie specialists
... (Special Teams Coordinator) Chase Blackburn has done a great job, as well as (assistant) Jeremy Springer to help get these guys to mature quicker. (Although) its been a small sample size and you’re not seeing a real rush... I’ve been pleased... Ethan (Evans) has done a really nice job. I think you've been really impressed with him overall, not exclusively as a punter, but also as just a holder... I’ve also thought Alex Ward has done a really good job as long snapper... I think it’s been a positive step in the right direction and we’ll continue to evaluate it and I think competition always brings out the best in people.
Will McVay change his approach after last years struggles?
“... it doesn’t really change much for us (staff). We try to be inside out. There’s been years, our first year, when we had probably similar expectations... you can never replicate some of those things or ignore the experiences you’ve accumulated over time, but you can be reminded of being inside out. Not worrying about what those things entailed and just doing the best job you can everyday... And continuing to learn from your mistakes... I’m not going to make the same mistakes again in terms of what I can control for these players, for these coaches, and we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to be urgent with our approach, but we’re going to make sure that trying to pursue being great at something, (and) it doesn’t have to be miserable... that youthful exuberance that you see from these of these guys has rubbed off on our coaches. You’re reminded this is fun.”
It is quite apparent that McVay is not going to change his philosophies and if I read between the lines, I don’t think he is viewing 2023 as a rebuild and therefore lost. There is much more in-depth information in the May 13 and 15 links than in the excerpts provided.
While much of it is coach speak, McVay’s optimism is infectious. The roster is inexperienced, particularly on defense, but it the holes are not unfillable. The offense is still dangerous and the bend-but-don’t break scheme of the defense is all about forcing field goals, not dominance. I going on record today, the Rams win at least 10 games in 2023.