Rams GM Les Snead looks to have made right moves -- at the perfect time

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The head coach was "the big rock."

"First and foremost, No. 1," Les Snead, the Los Angeles Rams' sixth-year general manager, said. "Gotta get that right."

From there, the most important offseason of Snead's life steered toward assembling a new coaching staff, then tweaking player personnel, and finally -- most importantly -- fine-tuning the roster. Snead thought back to that entire process on Tuesday morning, an off day for his Rams on the field.

The 2017 season has yet to reach its midway point, a thought that should temper excitement among even the biggest of optimists. But it looks as if Snead got it right.

The Rams fired former coach Jeff Fisher with three games remaining in the 2016 season, then left their GM's job status uncertain. When the offseason began, Snead joined chief operating officer Kevin Demoff and senior assistant Tony Pastoors as a central figure in the search for a new head coach. They decided on Sean McVay, 30 years old at the time, and only then was Snead's return made public.

McVay has resurrected a lifeless offense and already looks like a star in the making. The coaches he brought with him -- from celebrated defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to up-and-coming offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and all of those below them -- made up what appears to be an impressive staff. The players added, both through free agency and the draft, all look promising.

Andrew Whitworth has solidified left tackle while representing perhaps the NFL's most significant offseason upgrade at any position. John Sullivan has been a solid addition at center, helping to solidify a broken offensive line. Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have bolstered a Rams receiving corps that was devoid of impact talent for nearly a decade. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin and cornerback Kayvon Webster gave Phillips two key defensive players familiar with his system.

But it was this year's draft class that looks most impressive. The Rams didn't have a first-round pick, a product of trading up for the No. 1 overall selection in 2016. But Snead and McVay have already seen positive signs from the likes of tight end Gerald Everett, receiver Cooper Kupp, safety John Johnson, linebacker Samson Ebukam and defensive tackle Tanzel Smart.

The result is a 4-2 record and first place in the NFC West, with a much-improved Jared Goff and a rejuvenated Todd Gurley.

It's the Rams' best start since 2006, which is also the last time they didn't finish with a losing record.

"Definitely fulfilling," said Snead, who in the process might have bought himself some job security. "But you can never take your foot off the gas pedal."

Snead sat in the patio of a sprawling, luxurious golf course resort along the coastline in Jacksonville, a Starbucks green tea in one hand and a LaCroix Sparkling Water in the other. This is the Rams' home for six days, before they jettison to London to play the division-rival Arizona Cardinals this Sunday.

Snead got his start in this city, as a self-proclaimed low-level scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the mid- to late-1990s. He shared an apartment near here, in the seaside community of Ponte Vedra Beach, and called it some of the best days of his life. That was in his 20s, shortly after he decided not to pursue medical school -- a decision he admittedly still thinks about.

Said Snead: "There's been a few Mondays when you go, 'You know, I probably should've gone to med school.'"

Those Mondays don't come along very often now, because the Rams finally appear to be on the right track. A lot of that has to do with what Snead added, as well as what he removed.

"I call it addition by subtraction," Snead said, recalling his mindset at the onset of the offseason. "Let's think about subtracting anybody who we deemed unreliable. And you can do that before you add anybody. And then from there, it was, 'Hey, anybody we add, let’s make sure they’re going to be a reliable football player for the Rams.'"

Snead didn't mention any players by name, but they're easy to decipher if you've followed the Rams closely enough.

Kenny Britt was an accomplished yet enigmatic receiver who was not considered a positive influence in the locker room. Brian Quick was talented enough to be drafted 33rd overall, but he never panned out. The same could be said for left tackle Greg Robinson, the former No. 2 overall pick who performed among the worst at his position. Safety T.J. McDonald, meanwhile, was staring down the barrel of an eight-game suspension. None of them was brought back.

"I’ve said it many times," Snead said. "If you rely on the unreliable, you basically become unreliable."

Snead conceded that the Rams needed some semblance of a restart. But they also needed to learn from past mistakes. So he made sure to not acquire talent at the expense of character. He sought players who could help in the short-term by being good at their jobs, but also in the long-term by providing a positive influence for others at their respective positions. Whitworth, Woods and Barwin all bring that. Others can, too.

The Rams, coming off a 4-12 showing in their first season in L.A., "definitely needed to show progress," Snead admitted.

They've shown a lot of that thus far.

"I think you can definitely say through six games, through our sample size, yes, we’re progressing," he said. "I don’t think it’s too early to say that. But I do think it’s too early to rest on any laurel. That’s the nice thing about having Sean. He’s not going to allow us to."