Late in the first half of last week’s game at Seattle, Rams receiver Brandin Cooks lay prone on the turf at CenturyLink Field after catching a pass and absorbing a violent hit. A few plays later, receiver Cooper Kupp’s head hit the turf after he caught a short pass.
Both players sat out the rest of the game because of concussions. But Friday, after fully participating in practice for the first time this week, Cooks and Kupp each pronounced himself fit.
If they are cleared in the final stage of the NFL’s concussion protocol Saturday, they are expected to join Robert Woods in the starting lineup Sunday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
“Feel amazing,” Cooks said.
The return of Cooks and Kupp would energize a Rams offense that is averaging nearly 35 points a game, and has helped make the Rams the NFC’s only unbeaten team.
Kupp has 30 receptions, five for touchdowns. Cooks has 26 catches, one for a touchdown.
Cooks was injured after he caught an 18-yard pass and Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson crashed into him with a high hit. Kupp was injured after catching an 11-yard pass. When the Rams went to the locker room during halftime, he told trainers he did not feel like himself.
For NFL players, that is not an easy decision.
“You never want to let the guys down, which is the battle you go through,” Kupp said, adding, “I’ve got a family at home, and I want to make sure that when I step onto that field, I’m the best that I can be.”
Cooks’ and Kupp’s absences, however, provided the Rams an opportunity to develop depth. Second-year receiver Josh Reynolds and rookie KhaDarel Hodge each produced big plays in the 33-31 victory that lifted the Rams to 5-0.
“Proud of both of them for stepping up,” Jared Goff said after the game.
Reynolds’ and Hodge’s clutch performances were important for a receiver corps that already was thinned because of injuries. Pharoh Cooper (ankle) and Mike Thomas (groin) have been on injured reserve since suffering injuries during Week 1 at Oakland.
“Stepped in seamlessly,” Kupp said of Reynolds and Hodge. “There’s some depth here, and guys that can really play well.”
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Reynolds has been slowed by injuries since the Rams selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft from Texas A&M. But he has had moments.
During a 2017 training camp practice, Reynolds’ first after being sidelined because of a quadriceps injury, he put on an acrobatic show. In Week 12, Reynolds played in place of an injured Woods and caught a touchdown pass against New Orleans.
So “Big Smooth,” as receivers coach Eric Yarber calls him, did not blink when Cooks went down and Yarber sent him onto the field.
Yarber and assistant receivers coach Liam Coen counseled Reynolds and Hodge at halftime, and coach Sean McVay also talked to them.
“He was just like, ‘You’re here for a reason. Play in the game plan and it will come to you,’” Hodge said. “It kind of settled me down.
“I wasn’t really nervous, but I was anxious. So just hearing from the head coach, the head man, to just play gives you confidence.”
Early in the third quarter, Reynolds caught a 22-yard pass for a first down. On the next play, Goff found him for 17 yards and another first down. On the next play, McVay called for a fly sweep, and Reynolds ran 10 yards for another first down.
“I definitely had not done that in the league,” Reynolds, laughing, said of taking a handoff. “It was fun to be able to get the ball in my hands and be a running back.”
Todd Gurley also enjoyed the sequence.
“He makes a great play, then he makes another great play and then he gets the sweep and then … the next play he’s in there trying to block for me,” Gurley said, adding, “I kind of just chuckled and was like, ‘Yeah, we're going to be fine.’ ”
The 6-2, 205-pound Hodge made his mark in the fourth quarter, when he hauled in a 14-yard pass for a first down. The catch kept alive a drive that produced what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
It was the latest milestone for the undrafted free agent from Prairie View A&M, who impressed during preseason games and initially made the practice squad. Hodge was added to the roster in Week 3.
He is a player whom McVay frequently calls upon with questions when the offense meets during the week.
“He pops off with the answer right away,” Yarber said. “He responds with no hesitation.”
Reynolds and Hodge both fit the profile for receivers in McVay’s concept-based offense.
“You want those smart guys,” Yarber said. “They don’t see the small picture — they see the big-screen picture and they know what everybody’s doing and how they fit into that route and that concept.
“If you can’t do that, you won’t be here.”
Reynolds and Hodge prepared this week as if they were going to start. They will be ready if called upon and teammates are confident they will get the job done.