LOS ANGELES -- The best-laid plans of NFL teams can change at the drop of a hat. Or, perhaps in the case of the Los Angeles Rams, at the cost of a move from No. 15 to No. 1 in the 2016 draft.
Soon after making their move up the draft board, the Rams' biggest decision was whether to take Cal quarterback Jared Goff or North Dakota State signal-caller Carson Wentz. Now, the biggest question facing Goff and the Rams isn't who but when.
As in when will Goff take over as starting quarterback for a team that finished at the bottom of the league in most major passing categories a year ago?
History shows there's not necessarily a right or wrong approach to throwing a top pick into fire. More often than not, such choices have proved dependent almost solely on the individual.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher knows a thing or two about handling such situations. The then-Houston Oilers drafted Steve McNair, the best quarterback Fisher ever coached, with the third pick in 1995. McNair promptly went to the bench, making only brief cameos before taking over full time as the starter in 1997.
"Steve did play under center his junior year in a pro-style system and then got in the shotgun his senior year," Fisher said. "We were very patient with him and he was asked numerous times, ‘When are you going to play?’ and it’s the same thing that Jared said, ‘When the coaches say I’m ready for it.’ I think we handled it well. We’re not going to follow that same model because he’s got a different skill set than Steve.”
The model the Rams will follow is more likely one taken from a page in general manager Les Snead's history. As one of the key personnel evaluators for the Atlanta Falcons, Snead was part of the group that drafted quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008. The Falcons insisted Chris Redman would be their starter until Ryan was ready. As it turned out, Ryan was ready around Week 3 of the preseason and went on to start 16 games as a rookie. The same was true of Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
In fact, over the past eight years there has been a growing trend of quarterbacks who were taken early starting right away. In addition to Flacco and Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were all Week 1 starters in their first season.
The lone exception among top signal-callers taken recently was Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, who sat the first two games and part of a third before playing and becoming the starter.
Of course, that list of quarterbacks has produced varying levels of success.
"Well everybody is different," Fisher said. "Jameis is different than the next quarterback. We have always had the philosophy that we are going to play them when we think they are ready. We aren’t going to subject them to fail, so whenever that is you are going to see him under center. We aren’t going to come out Day 1 and announce that he is a starter. It’s going to happen pretty soon, sooner than probably later.”
For Goff, learning the offense won't be easy as he transitions from Cal's "Bear Raid" spread system to a more pro-style offense. The Rams will help him by adding some concepts he's comfortable with, and they view Goff as a quick study based on what they've already seen.
At last weekend's rookie orientation, Fisher was walking through the team's temporary Oxnard meeting areas when he encountered Goff leaving the quarterback room at 10 p.m., long after the day's scheduled meetings were done.
“He’s a guy that understands priorities," Fisher said. "He knows how to budget his time and where to spend his time. It’ll change a little bit. We’ll get him some information this week so he can stay up as we continue to install. He’s handled everything. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s got that internal, competitive drive that you don’t see. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He’s going to make sure that everything’s right.”
For his part, Goff has acknowledged that he'd like to play right away but also has said he's proving himself to the coaches and leaving the decision in their hands. Upon getting his first taste of the Rams' playbook, Goff said there were things, especially in the shotgun, that translate from college.
The difficult thing for Goff is adjusting to playing under center more and learning the terminology.
“The way they say it, and they’re absolutely right, it’s almost like you’re learning a different language," Goff said. "It’s from any system you come from in college – it doesn’t really matter. It’s like you’re going into Spanish class and you have to become fluent in Spanish over however long the time is. That’s kind of what it is."
There's plenty of time for Goff to get up to speed between now and the season opener on Sept. 12. The Rams have Case Keenum in place to offer competition,but it's unlikely anyone but Goff will start that game against San Francisco.
"I always thought when you invest that much, unless you have Brett Favre sitting on your team, I think you have got to play him," former NFL coach Rick Venturi said. "I have always believed that. You learn by doing and the only thing you learn sitting is you learn how to sit."
Even Fisher, who won't make any sweeping declarations before he absolutely has to, has dropped plenty of hints that it won't take long for Goff to take over.
“He may start the opener on Monday night, we don’t know, but that’s the goal," Fisher said.
It would be a surprise if that's a goal the Rams and Goff don't accomplish.