Jared Goff marched to the front of the media room at the Rams training facility. He looked down and noticed a sleek white podium had replaced the bulky brown stand that used to be there.
“New podium,” he wisecracked. “Exciting.”
Jared Goff opening a news conference with a joke?
It was uncharacteristic, but it also made a certain amount of sense, this being Goff’s third preseason with the Rams.
Goff was noticeably comfortable Tuesday on the opening day of minicamp. Comfortable with his place on the team. Comfortable with the system. Comfortable with the increased expectations.
The change was startling and the implications of that were exhilarating.
At this time a year ago, nothing was expected of the Rams. They had a first-year coach in Sean McVay. They were coming off a four-win season in which rookie Goff was underwhelming.
The Rams are now Super Bowl contenders, in large part because of the progress Goff made last year while directing the offense of the league’s highest-scoring team. He passed for 28 touchdowns, had only seven passes intercepted and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
With Matt LaFleur and Greg Olson departing in the offseason, Goff will be working with his third offensive coordinator and third quarterbacks coach in three years. The experienced team of LaFleur and Olson will be replaced by Shane Waldron and Zac Taylor. Waldron, the new pass-game coordinator, was the tight ends coach last year. Taylor was the assistant receivers coach.
But Goff won’t require as much hand holding as he did in his previous two seasons. And he also already has played a year under McVay’s system with McVay as the play-caller.
“He’s taken great strides this offseason,” Waldron said. “When you’re learning a new offense as a quarterback, you’re learning a new language. So, I think, Year 2, he’s more familiar with the language of the offense, the structure of what we’re trying to get done so he can take more ownership and he’s done a great job doing that.”
The experience is the source of Goff’s budding confidence.
“It goes back to just understanding things further and starting to dive deeper into some of the stuff we do and truly understanding the intent of everything,” Goff said. “It’s really understanding what we’re trying to get done with each play, even run plays, pass plays, everything.”
That’s what McVay wants.
“You hear us say it over and over and it gets monotonous but it certainly is the truth where we want him to be an extension of our coaching staff,” McVay said.
Goff will have to be that, and more.
If the regular season last year was a testament to Goff’s development, a loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the opening round of the playoffs showed how much further he still had to go. The Falcons were focused on neutralizing running back Todd Gurley and Goff failed to make them pay.
Goff started slowly, as he was sacked twice in the first four minutes and the Rams went three and out on their first two possessions. He later made some superstar-caliber throws, but had trouble moving the football with regularity.
He finished with 24 completions in 45 attempts. Of his 259 yards passing, 102 came on the Rams’ last two possessions, when the game was out of reach.
“There are multiple plays in that game I’d like to have back, change, do differently,” he said. “All stuff to learn from and all stuff looking forward to in the future.”
Progress could take a different form this season.
“I thought he did a lot of good things last year,” McVay said. “I think it’s all about just consistency. We talk about it all the time. That’s the truest measurement of performance and especially at that quarterback position.”
The quicker he can make that improvement, the better.
Goff will count only $7.6 million against the salary cap this season. The modest figure factored in the Rams being as proactive as they were in the offseason and adding Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Brandin Cooks.