Rams embrace newcomers as starting roles, leadership spots open up

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- There are 39 rookies who participated in the Los Angeles Rams’ mandatory minicamp. Add in another 21 players with two years or less of NFL experience, and the scope of their roster overhaul becomes apparent long before coach Sean McVay went out of his way during camp to remind everyone to focus on what comes next.

“Whatever happened the previous snap you got to be able to move on, reset yourself, stay nice and neutral. So a lot of these things that go on out here are to be able to simulate game-like situations, to be able to build those right habits,” McVay said.

Having to develop the proper approach at this time of year is another sign of what a departure this season will be for McVay and the Rams, who spent the previous five years with some expectation of contending for the Super Bowl after they won the NFC West with an 11-5 record in his head coaching debut in 2017.

The Rams went through most of that period with winning habits already set. They were focused on addressing a key area or two, building depth, and making sure their star players made it through to the start of the new season at full strength.

But after moving on from key players that contributed to that success, including trading cornerback Jalen Ramsey and releasing edge rusher Leonard Floyd, this offseason has been about making sure all the newcomers know the hows and whys of basic fundamentals in the hope they can become the new foundation for another period of sustained triumphs.

Inside linebacker Ernest Jones, who suddenly finds himself as one of the more senior defenders going into just his third season, accepts that there are going to be growing pains.

“It’s football, it’s not a perfect game,” Jones said. “It’s imperfect so people are gonna mess up. Some are gonna come on slower than others. But just making sure when it’s time to go out there against Seattle Week 1 that we’re ready to go.”

There is an upbeat energy around the group that has helped carry them through those struggles during the past few months, safety Jordan Fuller said.

“They asked all the right questions,” he said. “They’re real, real focused. I’m just excited to see how much they grow and where they can take it.”

For McVay and the coaching staff, it could mean giving those young players chances to work in different roles to find where they best fit. Compared to previous offseasons when most of the depth chart was already set, uncertainty abounds at many positions.

“In a lot of instances, you guys could probably pencil in what does the [53-man roster] really look like at this point in most of the previous handful of seasons. You know, as of right now, there [are] a lot of spots that are up for grabs,” McVay said.

That carries over into areas that aren’t quite as tangible as who starts where.

Those players with experience, such as Jones and Fuller, have found themselves taking on more prominent leadership roles for their respective position groups.

“I love it,” Jones said. “Just being more accountable right now, making sure I’m doing the right things to help these guys along and then also push them and make sure we’re ready to go when it’s time to go.”

McVay is also asserting his authority over the teams in different ways, stressing incremental gains as a step towards reaching greater goals, even if they don’t necessarily lead to wins this season.

“I’m really excited about working with this team,” he said. “You can see there’s been just tangible evidence of improvement every single day. Let’s continue to be in the moment, let’s enjoy it.”