THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- There was never really one specific thing that Jared Goff needed to improve on as he entered 2017. He was -- and still is -- only 22 years old, a second-year quarterback in his first year under a new system, coming off a rookie season that was substandard by every measure. Greg Olson, the Los Angeles Rams' new quarterbacks coach, couldn't specify.
"We felt, as a staff, when we put all our eyes on him, that there were a number of things that he could get better at," Olson said. "From footwork to progressions to timing in the passing game, there were a lot of things there that we felt like he needed to work on."
The list remains daunting, even in the midst of his most encouraging performance to date.
Goff went 16-of-20 for 160 yards while playing almost the entire first half against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night. He led the Rams to two touchdowns and a field goal in four drives, the first of which ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cooper Kupp. It was the type of stretch that made one believe that the former No. 1 overall pick may actually thrive one day; that this offense, rebuilt over the last five months, may finally be good again.
Goff acknowledged the confidence boost a night like that can trigger, "But it wasn't like it was shocking," he added. "It's something that we expected to do."
Olson's excitement was tempered.
"Believe me," Olson said of Goff, "he's far from a finished product. He would tell you that. And we know that; we understand that. But we're happy with the growth so far and the way he's approached the process here of getting better. There's a lot of positive things here that have come out, and he's just gotta continue that constant, daily improvement."
Olson was the Rams' offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2007, when the team operated out of St. Louis. He worked with an in-his-prime Marc Bulger then, one of numerous quarterbacks who have been under his tutelage. Prior to rejoining the Rams, Olson spent 15 years as either a quarterbacks coach or an offensive coordinator -- sometimes both -- with seven different organizations. He instructed veterans like Jeff Garcia, Kordell Stewart and Brian Griese, young players like Rex Grossman, Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles.
In Goff, Olson sees someone who "wants to get better" and "wants to realize his potential." He sees someone who has "tried to wipe the slate clean from his rookie season," but also "took it as a learning experience." He sees someone with a "good attitude" and a "strong work ethic." And he sees someone who has had to learn two different systems in his first two NFL seasons, all while getting acclimated to the speed of professional football.
"That's not an easy task," Olson said. "But he's never complained or placed blame on anybody or any of his circumstances. I really appreciate that about him."
Goff threw only four incomplete passes in his second preseason game, but Olson felt he could've easily gone 19-of-20. Olson was impressed by the way Goff kept his eyes down the field and didn't feel the rush. And he loved how calm he was on that first touchdown pass, when he rolled to his right and got rid of the football just before former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack could get to him.
In the days leading up to that, though, Goff struggled, throwing six interceptions over a three-day stretch during practice. Some of that was a byproduct of testing his limits, because, as Olson said, "You have to find out about what throws you can and can't make."
The next threshold for Goff -- the toughest threshold for Goff -- is to make performances like Saturday his norm.
"Consistency over time is what it's all about," Olson said. "As you're getting better, those lows need to become lower. There might be some little dips along the way, but it's just gotta be constant, never-ending improvement. We understand that he's a young player, and there's going to be mistakes along the way. But they can't affect the growth process."
Goff wasn't named the starting quarterback until Week 11 last season. He ultimately lost all seven of his starts and finished with a 22.2 Total QBR, the NFL's lowest. The offensive line was a disaster, the receiving corps was inferior, the running game was non-existent, and the coaching staff was underqualified. But Goff himself wasn't good. Outside of one impressive half in New Orleans, he struggled thoroughly. And when 50 league insiders were recently asked to rank quarterbacks, Goff placed 32nd out of 36, with one former general manager saying, "Man, he did not look the part when he played last year."
Olson sees urgency out of Goff this year. He can also see why it might not have been there last summer, because Case Keenum was there and the Rams, under Jeff Fisher, basically let Goff know he wasn't coming in as their starting quarterback. Sean McVay took the opposite approach in one of his first meetings with Goff. He told him that it was his job. That he would take all the first-team snaps, that he needed to establish himself as a leader, that he was expected to learn the offense quickly, and shoulder all that is required of an NFL quarterback.
Goff has accepted the challenge, and if Saturday was any indication, he has shown remarkable growth.
"But it's just a start," Olson said, "and we're a long ways away from getting into the season. We'll know more when this season ends; when he finishes his second year."