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Clues to plans, identities of Rams’ new coordinators emerge

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  • Clues to plans, identities of Rams’ new coordinators emerge

    Clues to plans, identities of Rams’ new coordinators emerge
    By Jourdan Rodrigue
    5h ago

    So, what exactly are the Rams getting in new coordinators Kevin O’Connell and Brandon Staley? Will their respective offensive and defensive units reflect their own identities?

    As the team inches closer to in-person and on-field workouts — with hopeful estimations of holding training camp on time in July, and in California — we can glean clues bit by bit about O’Connell, the offensive coordinator who also will have a big say in the continued development of quarterback Jared Goff, and about Staley, the first-time NFL defensive coordinator who one national pundit called a “secret weapon” for the Rams last week.

    They share more than similar backgrounds with head coach Sean McVay
    Each of McVay’s new coordinators was, like McVay himself, once a high school quarterback. And we know that while McVay went on to play receiver at Miami University (Ohio), O’Connell stuck with quarterback at San Diego State (and in a few places in the NFL), while Staley played quarterback at Dayton.

    And O’Connell shares a vaguely similar NFL coaching path with McVay. Both worked under Jay Gruden in Washington as offensive coordinators, with both serving as position coaches before their promotions (they never worked on the same staff).

    But more important, perhaps, than any parallels on their resume seem to be — upon early appraisal — the similarities in their approaches to coaching, teaching and studying the game.

    “We’ve been able to really slow it down, strip it down to the point where we’re teaching every single day. Great detail on the technique and fundamentals as well as scheme and growing, kind of putting it all together so that players can really understand the sequence of the ‘why,'” said O’Connell, of how offensive meetings have adjusted in an all-virtual setting.

    Yes, O’Connell is a “why” guy — something McVay emphasized heavily upon his own arrival in Los Angeles in 2017. As McVay searched for his coordinators, he wasn’t looking for a “mentor” type anymore — instead, he seemed to key in on specific qualities that he has known to work for himself over the years. Understanding not just what a plan is, but why it is — and teaching accordingly — seems to be one of them.

    “You come in, and you have to learn first,” O’Connell said. “You have to really submerge yourself in the details of how the ‘why’ has come about, because that’s the only way you can coach it.”

    In Staley, McVay seemed to seek another similar quality represented in himself: Experience coaching a ton of different positions, and the ability to translate all of those different “languages” into a smart, cohesive plan. Staley is a former quarterback who found his calling on the defensive side of the ball and since has coached in each defensive tier, including coordinating experience in the secondary.

    “You guys that know Sean, that’s how he is on offense. He can coach all the positions on the field,” Staley said, “and certainly I’ve tried to be as well-rounded as possible so that I can communicate effectively to everybody in the room and not just a certain (position group).”

    O’Connell wants Goff to take ownership of the details of the offense
    O’Connell, who has an extensive background as a quarterbacks coach, will have a large role with Goff. He’s expected to work with the fifth-year quarterback quite a bit, with the goal that Goff becomes more consistent but also grows in his command of the offense and of the position room.

    O’Connell said that elevating Goff’s play overall might be about improving even the most minute of details by “one or two percent.”

    “There are a lot of layers to it,” he said. “You have the fundamentals of playing the position, where you strip it down and it can be as pure as a first step on a dropback from underneath the center. It could be his base at the top of the drop. It could be where his eyes are going off a play-action fake. It could be understanding what’s happening on the other side of the ball, versus the play call and what our job is at the quarterback position to give our offense the best possible chance of success.”

    To O’Connell, excellence at the position means the ability to marry the details of the day-to-day with the bigger picture as Goff comes of age as an NFL quarterback.

    “There’s a layer, going into his fifth year … in the offense, of ownership,” O’Connell said. “Where you feel strongly about presenting him with a plan where he can truly have some ownership, while also understanding at the end of the day that it’s just about being great with the details of doing his job…

    “If he does his job at a really high level (and is) consistent with that, whether it be technique, fundamentals, the Xs and Os of it, maybe it’s a leadership thing, maybe it’s making sure we’re great in and out of the huddle, maybe it’s little details like that where if we can just get one or two percent better across the board at all of those different things, I think he has a chance to have a great season.”

    The staff is entrusting Goff with little details, even amid the challenges of working virtually during this time. Instead of mandating safe, socially distant workouts for him, they are leaving the organization of throwing sessions with receivers up to him, O’Connell said, to give him ownership over that important piece of the offseason.

    The quarterbacks room will be all about communication
    “It’s really important to me that (the quarterback room) is a room of communication, open dialogue,” O’Connell said. “Sometimes you plan a two-hour meeting and you only get 25 percent of it done because Jared has had a great question, John (Wolford) has had a great question, Coach McVay maybe comes in with a layer of a topic that takes it to a whole other level.”

    O’Connell compared it to preparing a lesson plan as a teacher, but being open to fluidity if the students bring up points that open up further dialogue. He believes that gives the quarterbacks a sense of ownership of their own room, while still working within the offense as a whole.

    “(It’s about) understanding that we have an offense, we have a system, we have rules, and finding that real fine line between the two: Really letting the players grow while also allowing yourself to really present and sell the plan moving forward,” he said.

    O’Connell sees big potential for rookie running back Cam Akers
    Akers, a second-round draft pick last month — and the Rams’ initial pick — faces an uphill battle because he can’t fully get adjusted to an NFL offseason due to coronavirus restrictions. Akers, likely in combination with second-year back Darrell Henderson, is expected to shoulder a heavy workload in 2020 as the Rams look to re-establish a running identity after parting ways with former star Todd Gurley in March.

    “You really saw the amount of personal grit and determination,” O’Connell said of Akers’ time at Florida State. “He was running against of loaded looks … and he was able to create a lot on his own. You see the upside — I think it was a great running back draft, there was a lot of depth there across the board — but for us, and for me personally with Cam, just watching and thinking about where he could possible get to and maximized in our offense, it’s really exciting.”

    Staley is forming a strong bond with star corner Jalen Ramsey
    Ramsey was an All-Pro cornerback in 2017, and after a couple of tumultuous seasons — including his trade to Los Angeles from Jacksonville last year — he is preparing for his first full season with the Rams.

    And Staley has high expectations — which he believes Ramsey can match.

    “I think there’s a lot more in him than he’s shown in the NFL,” Staley said. “I mean, he’s shown himself to be one of the premier guys. But I know there’s a lot more in him for him to showcase.”

    Staley wants to get creative with Ramsey, who he feels can do a lot of different things for the Rams depending on how they need to counter an offense from week to week. If the Rams are struggling to contain the middle of the field — like against productive tight ends, for example — Staley wants to put Ramsey in the slot. Ramsey can even play safety, Staley added, and of course would take the lead against a team’s featured receiver when necessary.

    “He’s got command of all the positions in the defensive backfield,” Staley said. “You know, I do not look at him just as a corner. I look at him as a (defensive back). This guy can do anything. He thinks like a quarterback. This game means a lot to him. His craft, his focus, his commitment … I couldn’t be more impressed with this guy.”

    The two are developing a strong relationship and talk multiple times a day, according to Staley.

    “I love coaching this guy,” he said. “It has been one of the unique parts about this whole thing, the relationship that I’ve been able to form with him in a short time.”

    Staley keeps energy levels high in team meetings
    Multiple players have said in the last few weeks that Staley has a way of getting everybody fired up in meetings, despite the virtual setting that could turn pretty monotonous.

    “It’s a great privilege to get in front of your players,” Staley said. “I don’t care what level you get to coach … I think especially in times like this, you want to be able to create energy every day that they can feed off of. I think we’ve all been in classes, or at conferences or seminars, where a lot of it is depending on how good the teacher or the presenter is, about how you really learn the material.

    “So what we try to do as coaches is be on fire every day to prepare something that is really going to help them get better and make it as like being in the office or on the field as possible … and try to come in each day with purpose, and then follow up with a lot of communication afterwards.”

    Staley’s gusto for coaching has long been a major aspect of his personality.

    “I’m a son of a teacher and a coach,” he said. “My parents are my heroes. I started drinking coffee and reading the newspaper when I was in first grade … I fell in love with sports a long time ago. I’ve always felt that passion to teach and to coach…

    “I feel like being a competitor is really important as a coach. I think your players need to know that you’re competing, just like they are. I feel like that’s what I probably see myself more as than anything, is a competitor. That probably expresses itself to players — I hope it does — and I want those guys to know that we’re not just going to talk about things, we’re going to be those things.”

    Defense will be multiple as Staley hopes to get creative
    Yes, if you want to categorize Staley’s “base defense,” it’s a 3-4. But try to avoid getting boxed-in with the terminology here, because Staley wants to be as multiple as possible while maximizing the skill sets of players such as Aaron Donald, the star defensive tackle who brings so much versatility and ability up front, and Ramsey in the back half.

    “We play so many different packages,” said Staley, who added that while technically the defense he coached in while in Chicago was also a 3-4 “base,” they were in nickel 84 percent of the time.

    “I think the 3-4 just is a framework of who your personnel is, but how you activate that personnel … that will express itself when those best players emerge, the matchup within the game. We like that personnel grouping because it gives you a lot of flexibility in how you can play people.”

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    The Rams’ offseason program is just about complete, with next week’s mandatory minicamp the final event before everyone gets away for summer vacation. Here are six key takeaways from head coach Sean McVay’s first OTAs.

    1) Goff looks in command of the offense

    According to his coaches, quarterback Jared Goff has picked up Los Angeles’ new playbook quickly and well. That’s come through during practice, as he’s delivered confident, accurate passes over the last few weeks. Whether it’s deep balls, or timing routes to the sidelines, Goff looks, understandably, much farther ahead from where he was a year ago as a rookie.

    “I think he has done a nice job improving every single day and that’s what’s going to give us a chance,” McVay said.

    With the first-team offense and defense lining up against one another at this point in the offseason, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said he’s observed significant progress from Goff as well.

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    2) Defensive transition appears to be going smoothly

    By now you surely know the Rams are moving their base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under coordinator Wade Phillips. But based on the way coaches and players have described Phillips’ scheme, there haven’t been many complications in making that adjustment.

    “I mean, it’s not much different,” Ogletree said. “The calls are different, and that’s really about it. Everything else is still pretty much the same.”

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    Watching practice, there’s a lot of chatter on defense in order to make sure everyone is lined up correctly before the play begins. Much like Goff being in command of the offense, Ogletree has done well to gain a solid understanding of the new defense as its leader.

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    This Rams season is going to end sooner than most everyone expected, not in the Super Bowl or even in the playoffs but with an all-but-meaningless Week 17 home game against the Arizona Cardinals.

    The end is just the beginning, though, as the Rams, who will finish no better than 9-7, must face an extraordinary number of offseason questions that touch every aspect of the organization, from coaching to player personnel.

    Rams fans, understandably, have a lot of questions. They presented them via Twitter this week, so let’s jump into a season-ending Rams mailbag.

    If you’re a Rams fan — and I know you are — you should hope so. Not even necessarily a coordinator. Sean McVay can call the position whatever he chooses, whether it be “senior assistant” or “analyst” or whatever. Steve Wyche of NFL Network, one of the best reporters out there, said on air this week that McVay might be open to adding someone like that to his staff. That’s a good thing. It’s not a failure on McVay’s part. This season — and really, going back to the end of last season — got more challenging, and it doesn’t hurt to have another voice and another set of eyes. I’ve yet to hear what the negatives would be for a move such as this one.

    I know this is going to be an unsatisfactory answer, but I always want to be as honest as I can be … There really is no “top priority.” Things basically get done (or don’t get done) on their own schedule. Think back to the Aaron Donald contract situation, which I know we all remember with great fondness. You could say Donald, during that time, was the Rams’ “top priority,” but they ended up getting several other deals done before Donald, including the Todd Gurley extension.

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