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Rams take wraps off Todd Gurley as regular season starts vs. 49ers

Rams take wraps off Todd Gurley as regular season starts vs. 49ers
Rams quartertback Case Keenum hands the ball off to running back Todd Gurley during an OTA practice on June 1. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Todd Gurley's national profile began rising almost immediately after the NFL approved the Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

The star running back — the only player featured in the Rams' relocation pitch to NFL owners — signed endorsement deals, appeared in television commercials and was featured prominently this summer in the opening montage for HBO's "Hard Knocks."

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In two days, Gurley takes perhaps his biggest star turn yet when the Rams open the season against the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football."

"I love it," Gurley said Friday. "I love the big games. Everybody's watching. That's what we're made for."

Gurley, the reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year, was in college at Georgia when the Rams made their last appearance on "Monday Night Football" in 2014.

Now he is perhaps the main attraction in a game between teams rekindling what was once a bitter L.A.-San Francisco NFC West rivalry.

Gurley, 22, rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He did so despite sitting out the opener while recovering from knee surgery, not starting until the fourth game, and being held out of the season finale against the 49ers at Levi's Stadium for precautionary reasons.

In his only game against the 49ers, he rushed for 133 yards in 20 carries and scored on a 71-yard touchdown run in a 27-6 victory at St. Louis.

Chip Kelly was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles at the time.

Now the 49ers' first-year coach is game-planning to stop the 6-foot-1, 227-pound Gurley.

"He's faster than people give him credit for, maybe," Kelly said. "But he's also such a big, physical runner — you're going to have to get a lot of guys around him and you're going to have to gang-tackle him."

Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry preview the Rams season opener at San Francisco.

To keep Gurley physically sound for the season, Rams Coach Jeff Fisher limited him to only one series during the exhibition season.

Fisher said Friday that there was "no such thing as a sophomore slump" for running backs.

"I would assume that this thing's going to get better and better, as we get better up front … and we're able to stay in games and get the ball in his hands," Fisher said.

Rams players said Gurley appears ready for the opener.

Offensive linemen are especially eager to block for a back who rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his first four starts last season.

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"It always makes the offensive line look good when your running back gets about 20 or 30 yards,'' on a play, guard Rodger Saffold said. "It's a lot better when you score in four plays than when you score in 12."

Gurley was selected as an offensive team captain along with quarterback Case Keenum.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers cited "maturity" when asked if he noticed a difference in Gurley as the back prepared for his second season.

"Taking his craft and taking his game to another level," Brockers said. "Finishing plays, going down and finishing in the end zone.

"Just the little things you do that show he's a real professional."

Gurley worked during the off-season and in training camp to improve his pass-catching skills. Last season, he had 21 receptions for 188 yards but never reached the end zone.

"It's about time for me to get a receiving touchdown," he said. "This year, hopefully, I get at least one."

But the bulk of his work will be as a runner.

On Monday night, he will go up against a defense that features All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

"It's the best versus the best," Gurley said. "Somebody's got has to come out on top, somebody has to lose."

Quick hits

The Rams terminated the contract of offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, who had been on the injured list. Reynolds received an injury settlement. He is eligible to return after Week 6…. Tackle Rob Havenstein (foot) and linebacker Bryce Hager (concussion) were full participants in practice. Cornerback E.J. Gaines (thigh) and receiver Pharoh Cooper (shoulder) did not practice for the second day in a row.

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