Backed up to the six-yard line, the Rams sent receiver Robert Woods long against the Houston Texans last season.
Woods had produced some big moments in the Coliseum during an All-America career playing for USC. This was a chance to enjoy one as a pro.
He lined up on the right side, streaked up the field and got behind the secondary. Quarterback Jared Goff hit him in stride at the 50-yard line, and Woods dashed to the end zone for a career-long 94-yard touchdown.
A week after taking a short pass against the New York Giants and turning it into a 52-yard touchdown, Woods once again had shown Rams coaches that he was more than a sure-handed mid-range receiver.
“He even surprised us with his speed,” coach Sean McVay said this week.
On Saturday, the Rams play the Texans in a preseason game at the Coliseum.
It will be Woods’ first game since a playoff loss against the Atlanta Falcons in January, when the former Gardena Serra High star caught a season-high nine passes for 142 yards.
Nearly all Rams starters were held out in this year’s preseason games against the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders, so Woods is looking forward to honing his timing with Goff and getting a feel for the offense at game speed before the Rams play the Raiders in a Sept. 10 season opener on “Monday Night Football.”
“It feels good here at practice, it feels crisp,” Woods said. “Just to work it against someone else will be good.”
Woods played four seasons for the Buffalo Bills before signing a five-year, $34-million contract with the Rams in 2017. Despite sitting out three games because of a shoulder injury, he caught 56 passes for 781 yards and five touchdowns for a team that averaged a league best 29.9 points a game.
During the offseason, the Rams added Brandin Cooks to a receiving corps that also includes Cooper Kupp, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas and Josh Reynolds, among others.
New cornerback Aqib Talib said Woods was a tough matchup in practice because of his quickness off the line, route running, deceptive speed and deep-ball capability.
“He’s our most all-around receiver,” Talib said, “so it’s great work when you go against him.”
McVay said Woods’ “body lean” when running routes makes it difficult for defenders to read whether it will be a short, intermediate or deep pattern. His body control and speed enables him to separate and create space.
Coaches would like to see Woods employ “aggressive hands” this season, McVay said.
“He caught the ball last year,” McVay said, “but in some of those tight windows or balls away from your body, aggressively attacking it, going and snatching that football and ripping it into your body.”
In his second year in McVay’s offense, Woods wants to build on his success and produce more catch-and-run plays.
“That’s the biggest thing is being comfortable with the ball in my hands, and having the space to run,” he said.
Making an impression
Linebacker Justin Lawler grew up in Texas and played at Southern Methodist.
Was he a Texans fan?
“Not too much,” he said. “My mom’s a huge J.J. Watt fan, but I guess who doesn’t like J.J. Watt?”
Lawler was a seventh-round pick but has been rotating in with starters at outside linebacker since organized-team activities during the spring.
In college, he rushed the passer from a three-point stance. Now he is standing up and occasionally dropping into pass coverage.
“I’m doing the same things — just standing up,” he said. “I’ve never really dropped before.”
In last week’s victory over the Raiders, Lawler recorded a sack and forced a fumble by quarterback Connor Cook that helped set up a touchdown.
Seventh-round picks are typically longshots to make the 53-man roster, especially one this talented.
But Lawler said he was not overwhelmed by his opportunity, and that he would keep abiding by the same philosophy.
“Play hard, do my job, and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.