Rams have their health, and a shot at their first playoff berth since 2004

Rams have their health, and a shot at their first playoff berth since 2004
Says Rams strength and conditioning coach Tom Rath in a motivational video about being a part of the NFL: "We are extremely fortunate to have this opportunity." (Los Angeles Rams / Facebook)

Ted Rath paces with unbridled energy as Rams players file out of the locker room and line up on the goal line and at the back of the end zone.

Rath, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, checks his watch and blows his whistle.


“All right. Let’s go!” Rath yells, before blowing the whistle to commence stretching. “Let’s take care of these bodies!”

Across the field, first-year coach Sean McVay huddles with trainer Reggie Scott for an up-to-the-minute injury report.

McVay, Scott and Rath have followed the daily regimen since training camp, and it has played a role in the Rams’ surprising — and surprisingly healthy — start.

The Rams are 7-3 and atop the NFC West going into Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints at the Coliseum.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from last season, when five starters sat out at least two of the first 10 games.

Each opponent the Rams have faced lists at least 11 players, and as many as 33, on its injury report.

The Rams have avoided similar devastation.

During training camp, defensive lineman Dominique Easley and tight end Temarrick Hemingway, both rotation players, suffered season-ending injuries. Reserve safety Cody Davis and backup running back Malcolm Brown suffered injuries during the season and are currently sidelined.

Through 10 games, nearly every starter was available for a team that is in playoff contention for the first time since 2004.

During last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams suffered their first significant injuries in the starting lineup.

Leading receiver Robert Woods suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined for a couple of weeks, McVay says.

Cornerback Kayvon Webster entered concussion protocol and Nickell Robey-Coleman injured his thigh. Webster will be available Sunday, Robey-Coleman is listed as doubtful.

As they prepare to play the Saints, five players are listed on their injury report.


Rath and Scott are quick to acknowledge that luck plays a role in maintaining a healthy roster, but players say the Rams’ good fortune has much to do with Rath’s and Scott’s communication and planning.

“They’re player-friendly,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson says. “If you go to them, they will listen.”

Andrew Whitworth, a 12th-year pro, says he worked with “great people” during his 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, but that the difference between organizations is apparent.

“In Cincinnati unless you really went in the training room and asked for some help, or for somebody to be involved in something you do, there really wouldn’t be any conversation with anybody about anything,” Whitworth says. “So these guys, though, every single day they have a plan for each individual.”

Scott has worked for the Rams for eight of his 15 seasons in the NFL. Rath, like McVay, is in his first season with the franchise.

Scott says it has been the most cohesive relationship of his career.

“We are absolutely on the same page in our thought process,” Scott says, “And it really has made for a pretty good program.”

McVay entrusted Scott, with a deep knowledge of the Rams’ personnel, to help shape the roster and assist in hiring a strength coach.

Rath joined the Rams after eight seasons as a Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions assistant.

“They’ve got a very deliberate plan,” McVay says of Scott and Rath. “Very intentional, where everything that we try to do is geared toward helping our players be healthy mentally, physically, so that they can be at their best on Sundays.”

Communication and trust, Scott and Rath say, are combined with analytics, wellness checks and recovery plans to keep players healthy.

Upon arrival at the team’s Thousand Oaks facility, players answer a digital questionnaire — similar to a short quiz — about how their body feels.

“It only takes one minute,” linebacker Mark Barron says, adding that it’s an easy way to communicate about soreness and other issues. “Just little things like that where I feel like it helps them a lot and it helps us a lot.”

Scott and Rath study the data, then implement the findings in the weight room and at practice, running back Todd Gurley says.

“If we feel bad, there ain’t no reason having us out there going full speed when you really can’t,” Gurley says. “As long as we communicate with those guys, they’ve been doing a great job of taking care of us as far as our body, limiting the reps or doing different exercises or different lifts.”

Scott relays information to McVay, who adjusts the practice plan accordingly.

“The big thing with us is guys who can participate but they’re still a little injured,” Scott says. “How do you monitor them? How do you modify them? Because you still want them to get their looks but you also want to be very careful not to re-aggravate injuries.”

Players wear a Zebra Technologies chip in their jersey during practice, the same device the NFL uses during games to track their movements.

The radio-frequency identification device provides real-time feedback and measures speed, including acceleration and deceleration, and distance covered. Recently, the device clocked three Rams players running faster than 20 mph during a game.

“We measure a lot,” Scott says, adding, “Ten years ago it was our gut. ‘The team feels like they’re slow.’ Now we can confirm our gut with true data.”

Individual practice plans are altered based on the analytics and a player’s feedback. Players are pulled out of practice when they reach a prescribed workload.

“It’s all pre-communicated,” Rath says. “We all know that going in, the position coach knows that, so we’re all on the same page and then there’s no issue.”

Veteran players, including Whitworth, center John Sullivan and linebacker Connor Barwin, rest during Wednesday and Thursday practices.

Receiver Sammy Watkins, prone to injuries during three seasons in Buffalo, says he’s never felt healthier this late in a season.

Rath and Scott met with Watkins when he arrived at training camp in August to review his training and injury history.

“I’ve never been around a program that honestly cares about your legs, your body and correcting your movements,” Watkins says.

Scott is cautious not to reveal strategy, but emphasizes that players are educated about recovery plans that suit their body, position and any special needs.

Six games remain in the regular season. There’s no guarantee each injured starter will return, or that every starter will be available as the Rams attempt a run to the playoffs.


Injuries are inevitable.

But so far the Rams are executing their plan to avoid them.


Defensive lineman Aaron Donald was limited because of illness but is expected to play Sunday. Running back Lance Dunbar (knee) was limited and is questionable. If Dunbar is not available, rookie running back Justin Davis would be asked to step up, McVay said. Davis, who signed as an undrafted free agent from USC, had one carry for one yard in the opener against Indianapolis. He has been active for only two games…. Quarterback Jared Goff faced the Saints last season in his second game as the starter. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, in a 49-21 loss. McVay studied that tape when he was hired by the Rams in January. Among other plays, Goff passed for a touchdown against a maximum blitz. “Those are the things that you’re encouraged about,” McVay said, “is his ability to change his arm angle, make all the throws, but then also the toughness to stand in there, not watch the rush, keep your eyes down the field and deliver the ball in the face of pressure.”