Rams' Matthew Stafford taking it slow, but making progress with new team

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Matthew Stafford took snap after snap, dropping back each time to scan the field.

And that was the extent of the 11-on-11 action for the new Los Angeles Rams quarterback, who did not throw the ball during full-team periods at mandatory minicamp.

Entering his 13th NFL season, but his first with a team outside of the Detroit Lions, the plan for the offseason program was to familiarize Stafford and other newcomers with teammates and Rams coach Sean McVay's scheme.

"We're not moving extremely fast, not really trying to get open or make great throws in that period," Stafford explained. "It's more, let's get the protections adjusted, let's get the runs going off in the right direction and get all the above-the-neck stuff going."

How the Rams' offense will appear with Stafford when the season opens Sept. 12 against the Chicago Bears remains mostly a mystery after an offseason program dominated by one-on-one work and some 7-on-7 action.

It could also remain something of a mystery through training camp after McVay acknowledged that he is likely to keep in step with his past approaches to preseason games and not play starters.

But if McVay's good mood this offseason is any indication, his once-prolific offense that struggled to find consistency the past two seasons with quarterback Jared Goff is trending positive with Stafford.

"He's done outstanding," McVay said about Stafford, whom the Rams acquired from Detroit in exchange for Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick in January. "He's only going to continue to grow and we're going to continue to get better."

McVay raved about Stafford's leadership, ability as a natural thrower and his football savvy -- including his knack to recognize and manipulate a defense.

Stafford underwent surgery on his right thumb in March. He described it as "a quick little fix" and said that he felt "way better." The procedure did not affect his participation in voluntary workouts or mandatory minicamp.

The goal of the offseason program for the 33-year-old Stafford was to stress himself mentally as he integrates into McVay's system.

"I'm just trying to learn as much as I possibly can about not only our playbook and the way we want to operate as an offense," said Stafford, who departed Detroit as the all-time leader in every passing category but never won a playoff game in three attempts. "But also [learn] my teammates as well."

The Rams return eight offensive starters from last season's 10-6 team, including four linemen, receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, tight end Tyler Higbee and running back Cam Akers.

Woods and Kupp spent the past four seasons with Goff, but have quickly began to adapt to their new signal caller after numerous one-on-one drills and time spent between action communicating nuances.

"He's a vet quarterback [who's] really honing in on picking up this offense very fast because we all got plans, we need him to learn it and be ready to go right away," said Woods, who fell 64 yards shy in 2020 of a third-consecutive 1,000-receiving yard season. "I would say his attention to listen to receivers, wanting to still get better at his level and at his year is super big."

Rams general manager Les Snead also added firepower for Stafford over the offseason, signing veteran receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and selecting Louisville receiver Tutu Atwell in the second round of the NFL draft. Both are considered speedy receivers who can provide deep targets and stretch the field.

"It's been awesome with Matt, having a veteran quarterback that's played a lot of ball in this league," said Jackson, who has been slowed because of injuries the past two seasons but has recorded the most 60-plus-yard touchdowns (24) in NFL history. "It's definitely going to be a scary group for defenses and defenders 'cause Sean McVay, one thing about it, he's going to figure out how to get you open, so we just look forward to having a lot of fun doing it."

Stafford said each receiver brings a unique skillset. He described Woods as smooth in and out of his breaks, Kupp as one of the smartest he's played with, Jackson and Atwell for their long speed, and second-year pro Van Jefferson as good separator.

"It's a really talented group, top to bottom," Stafford said.

Stafford also is expected to have support in the backfield from Akers, who emerged late in his rookie season as a feature back after playing in a committee most of the year.

"It's been fun getting to know Matt," said Akers, who rushed for 625 yards in five starts and 13 games last season. "Gaining chemistry, catching balls, getting handoffs from him. Feeling the way he likes to lead, just learning each other. That's what this time that we've been spending together has been, we've been learning each other and just getting comfortable."

There's no exact science, Stafford and teammates said, as to when they will jell and establish an exact chemistry. But Stafford expressed confidence about his progress before the Rams broke for the offseason.

"I definitely have learned quite a bit," Stafford said. "I feel like my knowledge is a lot broader now than it was when we started that's for sure. I've been exposed to a lot both from Sean and our offense and our defense as well, so it's been a good learning experience for me."

Quarterbacks report to training camp on July 25th.