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Sean McVay says Todd Gurley is healthy but Rams need to find balance to keep back productive

Sean McVay says Todd Gurley is healthy but Rams need to find balance to keep back productive
Rams head coach Sean McVay speaks during a press conference at the NFL combine on Thursday in Indianapolis. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Before traveling here to evaluate NFL draft prospects at the scouting combine, Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead vacationed separately in Hawaii.

It was an opportunity to relax, recharge and put further behind the Rams’ disappointing Super Bowl defeat to the New England Patriots.

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“It wasn’t until the last night that I woke up sweating,” McVay joked Thursday, “so that was good.”

Snead said he experienced physical pain when he replayed parts of the 13-3 loss to the Patriots in his mind. He noted his thoughts in a journal to assess how many days it would take until flashbacks no longer caused piercing discomfort.

“We’re at that point,” Snead said, sounding relieved.

The probable reality: Neither McVay nor Snead will rest easy until the Rams win a Super Bowl.

With the combine this week, free agency starting this month and the draft in late April, the Rams are planning for the 2019 season and beyond.

In the aftermath of Todd Gurley’s late-season knee injury and his struggles in the NFC championship game and Super Bowl, one of the most high-profile issues — short-and long-term — concerns the star running back.

McVay reiterated that Gurley’s subpar performances stemmed not from the condition of his left knee but from McVay’s failure to give him the right opportunities. He said Gurley — the recipient of a record $60-million extension before last season — would not undergo any offseason procedures on a knee that in 2014 required major reconstructive surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Rams running back Todd Gurley had only 35 yards rushing in Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots.
Rams running back Todd Gurley had only 35 yards rushing in Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“From a physical and really a mental standpoint he’s in a good place,” McVay said. “And we’re excited about how Todd’s feeling moving into the offseason.”

But McVay and Snead both said that the Rams were formulating a plan to maintain Gurley’s production and ensure his longevity.

“You want to be able to, first and foremost, sit down and talk with Todd, figure out what is the best way to really navigate the way to maximize his skill set but then also have a long-term vision,” McVay said.

Gurley, 24, has 6,430 yards from scrimmage and 56 touchdowns in four seasons. He has carried or caught the ball 1,229 times, absorbing hits after the majority.

In 14 games in 2018, Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns in 256 carries. He caught 59 passes, four for touchdowns.

Gurley was treated for knee soreness during a Dec. 16 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles, and sat out the last two regular-season games. He returned and played well in a divisional-round playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But Gurley had only four carries in the NFC title game against the Saints — “sorry as hell,” he said of his performance — and rushed for only 35 yards in 10 carries in the Super Bowl.

Running back C.J. Anderson performed well after he was signed as a late-season substitute for Gurley. Anderson, as with all of the Rams’ pending unrestricted free agents, is expected to test the market before he and the Rams revisit a possible return.

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Regardless, the Rams sound determined to protect their investment in Gurley.

“There’s an element of wear and tear and I think we have to determine in probably two stages: Are we going to give him the amount of load that he’s had in the past? Or are we going to lessen that load to, let’s say keep him fresher for the season and for seasons beyond,” Snead said. “And then, if you go that route … you have to have a good, let’s call it ‘Batman and Robin’ combination, or add another superhero figure into that and figure out how you’re gonna do it.

“So we’re in the process of figuring that out. And I do think Todd, in his career — and it happens to a lot of young guys — all of a sudden they wake up, it’s like a marathon runner. If you run a lot of marathons all of a sudden you wake up and you’re sorer than you were the day before.

“So recovery and things like that have to come into it. But it’s something we want to be intentional about and proactive.”

After making the playoffs in 2017, the Rams made multiple headline-grabbing personnel moves before, during and after the 2018 combine. They assembled a team that won 13 regular-season games and advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2001 season.

Snead has not been as publicly active so far this offseason.

“Last year was kind of sexy, but the goal is not necessarily to be sexy, but it is — I’ll keep saying it — to put the best version of the ’19 Rams on the field,” Snead said.

The Rams used the franchise tag to control a pending free agent in each of the last three seasons. Tuesday is the deadline to apply the tag, but the Rams’ streak is expected to end, Snead saying Thursday that, “Right now, we definitely do not plan on using it.”

That means edge rusher Dante Fowler, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Lamarcus Joyner, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and back-up quarterback Sean Mannion probably will join Anderson in testing the free-agent market before possibly re-signing with the Rams.

Etc.

“Breaking news will be this,” Snead joked from a podium before he answered questions from reporters. “Aaron Donald will be at OTAs, training camp. Can’t promise you he’ll practice a lot, but he’ll be there.” Donald, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year, sat out training camp in each of the last two seasons before signing a $135-million extension last August. … Snead said the Rams would wait until summer before possibly exploring an extension for quarterback Jared Goff. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft will be in the fourth-year of his rookie contract, and the Rams’ have a fifth-year option. The Rams will evaluate and possibly draft a quarterback to back up Goff. “To say that’s out of the question wouldn’t be accurate,” McVay said. … Receiver Cooper Kupp, recovering from season-ending knee surgery, is “in great shape and right on pace to be ready to go, especially with training camp,” McVay said. … McVay on his decision to replace defensive line coach Bill Johnson with Eric Henderson. “We wanted to be able to make some changes at that spot, based on our evaluation,” McVay said. “To be honest, that was probably one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do, to date, as a head coach, is look somebody in the eye that you respect and you have so much of an appreciation for the way that he went about his job, and say, ‘You know, we’re going to go in a different direction.’ ”

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