In 2016, when the NFL announced that his team was moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles, Rams running back Todd Gurley did not initially have lofty visions of joining the L.A. sports landscape.
“I was thinking more of the party life,” he joked Thursday, “not too much of other sports.”
But Gurley is fully ensconced at the center of what has become a bustling and star-laden L.A. sports scene that features the surging Dodgers, the LeBron James-led Lakers and the unbeaten Rams.
“No other city I would want to be in,” he said. “I always wanted to be in L.A. and be able to play out here.
“The Dodgers are doing good, one game away from going to the World Series back to back. When you see stuff like that it’s just more like inspiration. You want that feeling as well. … It’s exciting to be able to play in the same city as LeBron.”
Gurley, in the midst of an MVP-caliber season, donned a Manny Machado No. 8 Dodgers jersey in the locker room and during his weekly news conference.
Gurley, 24, spent part of his childhood in Baltimore, so his admiration for Machado dates to the slugging shortstop’s pre-Dodger days with the Baltimore Orioles.
“I guess I've got to rock with the Dodgers now, man,” he said.
Gurley’s national profile grew last season, when he rebounded from a disappointing 2016 performance, helped lead the Rams to the playoffs and was named the NFL’s offensive player of the year.
He signed a $60-million extension on the eve of training camp and is off to an even better start than a year ago.
He has scored a league-leading 11 touchdowns and ranks first in yards rushing with 623, an average of 103.8 a game. He also has 21 receptions for 247 yards.
Last Sunday at Denver, Gurley rushed for a career-best 208 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 victory. The Rams are 6-0 going into Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
“There’s really not anything that Todd can't do in terms of what you ask him,” coach Sean McVay said. “The thing that I say over and over is, as special of a talent as he is, he’s an incredibly smart player.”
When he performs well, Gurley always deflects credit to coaches, offensive linemen and the receivers and tight ends that block for him. He did the same Thursday when asked if he allowed himself to ponder the rarity of a 200-yard NFL rushing performance.
“I didn't really think too much of it,” he said. “I mean honestly, everybody did such a great job. I really didn’t have to do too much, to be real.”
Gurley was four days removed from his 28-carry performance against the Broncos but said that his body was not overly sore because he did not absorb many big hits.
That was in stark contrast to when he carried 20 times for 108 yards in the season opener against the Oakland Raiders.
“I felt like I couldn’t ever play football again,” he said, “and then the next week I felt fine. The last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling fine. So hopefully I can keep it up and keep feeling that way after the game.”
Keeping Gurley physically sound is a priority for a team that is averaging a league-best 464.3 yards a game. The Rams are first in yards rushing at 154.3 yards per game, sixth in passing at 310 and third in scoring at 32.7 points a game.
McVay works with the training and strength and conditioning staffs to monitor Gurley’s recovery and workload.
“The way he’s running the football, what a physical player he is, I can only imagine that he’s sore,” McVay said. “We try to do everything we can, but especially somebody like him that takes the pounding and has the amount of work that he’s getting right now.”
Gurley could be busy again Sunday, perhaps as a receiver.
The 49ers rank 25th in passing defense. They are 13th against the run and have given up nearly 30 points a game.
The Rams need Gurley to continue performing at a high level without overusing him.
That responsibility rests with McVay.
“He kind of gets stronger as the game keeps going,” McVay said. “But you also do want to be mindful of the fact that we’re six games into a 16-game season.
“So, him getting stronger as the season progresses is something we talk about.”