THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- His stint as the Los Angeles Rams' interim coach is only a week old now, but John Fassel -- energetic, engaging and warmhearted -- has already found an aspect of his new job that he thoroughly enjoys: lifting spirits.
"That part of coaching is kind of fun," Fassel said. "Take a kid that you can tell is just distraught like, 'Come on, there's a lot of balls coming back at you left. Next time it comes, you've got to make the play.'"
Fassel was referring to Mike Thomas, the rookie receiver and sixth-round pick who had a nightmare four-day stretch. On Sunday, he fumbled the opening kickoff in an eventual 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. On Thursday, seven minutes into a 24-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Thomas dropped a deep pass that would've gone for at least a 45-yard gain and could've resulted in a touchdown.
After fumbling the kickoff -- a ball that bounced off his shoulder pads that Thomas then failed to recover -- Fassel immediately got in his ear.
"This is a really, really good test for you Mike," Fassel told him, "to see how mentally tough you are to bounce back for the next 59 minutes and 56 seconds."
Thomas, fulfilling the duties of an injured Benny Cunningham, returned kickoffs the rest of the game without incident. But then Thursday came. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver sneaked wide open on a fly route towards the middle of the field, a good 5 yards behind Seahawks free safety Steven Terrell. Jared Goff's pass was slightly underthrown, but still very catchable. It trickled off Thomas' fingertips and onto the ground. Thomas buried his face in the turf for a second, then sprung up and clapped his hands together.
"I was very hard on myself," Thomas said, "because you don't expect to make major mistakes like that at all. Just hard on myself."
Fassel's message then: "Bounce back, man. You know we're coming back to you again. You're going to have to cover kicks, cover punts, return some kickoffs, and hopefully we throw the ball out to you again. And I know you'll get it."
Fassel, who has spent the last eight years as a special teams coordinator, has spent all year working with Thomas. He noted how well he's done as a gunner on special teams, covering kickoffs and punts. How quickly he has adapted to a role he never played in Southern Miss. And how sad it is that his two mistakes this season have been so glaring.
Thomas was seen as a potential draft sleeper, a guy who could eventually develop into a star at receiver.
The Rams would love nothing more. They've been thin at receiver for years, and now Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, their only two vertical threats, are heading into free agency. They need someone like Thomas -- and Pharoh Cooper, a slot receiver drafted in the fourth round -- to develop into impact players if they hope to avoid an all-out rebuild with a team that is currently 4-10.
Thomas is hoping they see past those two glaring mistakes.
"I don't want people to identify me as, 'Oh, he just makes mistakes all over the field,'" Thomas said. "I'm not like that. At the end of the day, I can't control that. I have been doing a good job on special teams and trying to help out offensively. And I'm just looking forward to keep playing. That's out of my control. I can't do nothing about that."