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As coaching staff changes, Rams focus on growth of QB Jared Goff

The situation was rife for potential confusion. Instead, it produced overwhelming success.

Among questions the Rams faced going into last season was how second-year quarterback Jared Goff would respond to — and not be overwhelmed by — an experienced coaching triumvirate in his ear.

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Coach Sean McVay, who doubles as the play-caller, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson did a masterful job keeping their message and instruction consistent during meetings, practices and games. Goff responded with a breakout season that helped the Rams win a division title and lead the league in scoring.

Now, McVay is the only member of the trio still on staff.

Olson left to become offensive coordinator under new Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden. LaFleur is offensive coordinator and play-caller under new Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel.

Can the Rams and Goff duplicate or build on their 2017 success?

Most of the key players on offense are in place. And the Rams will seek to keep pending free agents as well.

At a time when top starting quarterbacks are fetching more than $25 million annually, the Rams have Goff under control for three more seasons on his rookie contract, which carries a salary-cap number of $7.6 million in 2018, according to overthecap.com. Running back Todd Gurley, the league's offensive player of the year, is no doubt pining for an extension as he enters a fourth season that carries a salary-cap hit of $4.4 million. The Rams are expected to exercise their fifth-year option on Gurley before the May 3 deadline.

Receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp return. Sammy Watkins, due to become a free agent, is a potential candidate for the franchise or transition tag. Teams can designate players for the tags starting Tuesday. The deadline to designate franchise or transition players is March 6.

Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will be third- and second-year pros, respectively. Temarrick Hemingway, coming back from knee surgery, also is going into his third season. Veteran Derek Carrier is a pending free agent.

Veteran center John Sullivan is due to become a free agent, but the Rams are expected to try to work out a deal and, perhaps, enable him to mentor a young center. The rest of the starting offensive line that protected Goff and cleared the way for Gurley returns intact.

But the most important factor, as it has been since they selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, is how Goff continues to develop.

So the reconfigured coaching staff will be on the spot.

Goff, 23, will play for his third quarterbacks coach in three NFL seasons. He said just before Olson's departure that "it'll be fine."

After LaFleur left a few weeks ago, Goff said he was "bummed." But he added that he was looking forward to more "one-on-one" time with McVay.

McVay, 32, was voted NFL coach of the year after guiding the Rams to an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance since 2004. He deflected credit for his success to the players and a coaching staff that included three valuable coordinators: LaFleur, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and special teams coordinator John Fassel.

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McVay and the Rams could have blocked LaFleur's departure — and they might have if his destination was to an NFC West rival or other conference team — but McVay stayed true to his publicly stated belief that assistants should have the opportunity to seek more responsibility.

"It's a big loss for us," McVay during an interview before he received the coach-of-the-year award in Minneapolis, "but we're confident in the guys stepping up."

Upon Olson's departure, McVay promoted Zac Taylor from assistant receivers coach to quarterbacks coach.

Taylor, 34, played quarterback at Nebraska and was the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach for two seasons. He was the Dolphins' interim offensive coordinator for part of the 2015 season.

After LaFleur's exit, McVay named offensive line coach Aaron Kromer run-game coordinator and tight ends coach Shane Waldron pass-game coordinator.

Kromer, 50, was the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014. Waldron, 38, has not been a coordinator at the college or NFL level.

McVay also had added former UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to the staff as a senior offensive assistant. Fisch, 41, was offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars for two seasons.

McVay said he was confident that the promotions he made from within, and the addition of Fisch, could make up for the losses of Olson and LaFleur.

LaFleur, who also worked for the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons, left the Rams and good friend McVay so he could call plays in the NFL for the first time.

"It's always tough leaving a team like that," LaFleur said in a phone interview. "But at the same time this really offered an opportunity for me to do something I haven't done in the NFL. … Just more or less taking that next step.

"I'm thankful I worked for such good people [with the Rams] because they easily could have blocked me. And that just shows the character of Sean, and everybody else in that organization, to allow people to try and move up and advance their careers."

Gurley, like Goff and McVay, wished LaFleur well as he tries to do for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota what he helped do with Goff.

"Him and coach McVay had a great relationship — and I'm pretty sure he learned a lot from him," Gurley said of LaFleur. "This is the moment he's been waiting for.

"This is what it's all about."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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