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Rams

Todd Gurley’s knee, revamped line among big questions as Rams open camp

Rams running back Todd Gurley sits on sideline during a December 2018 road game vs. Arizona.
Rams running back Todd Gurley spent some time on the sideline last season, this time for a December road game against the Cardinals, because of a knee injury.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The emotional aftermath from their Super Bowl defeat is behind them.

So say Rams coaches, players and executives.

But as the Rams ready for the first workout of training camp Saturday at UC Irvine, the offense’s disappointing performance in a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots lingers.

Can third-year coach Sean McVay and his star-studded team bounce back, avoid the slide that has befallen many other teams that lost in the Super Bowl and make a run to an NFL championship?

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That is the overriding question for a Rams team that opens the season Sept. 8 against the Carolina Panthers at Charlotte, N.C.

The offseason additions of veteran safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews should fortify a defense that lost lineman Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Mark Barron and safety Lamarcus Joyner.

Since McVay is not expected to play established starters or key rotational players during preseason games, other issues might not be resolved until the season begins and then plays out.

Here are five questions the Rams will try to answer during training camp:

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Is Todd Gurley’s left knee sound?

Gurley scored a league-best 21 touchdowns in 2018 despite sitting out the final two regular-season games because of a knee issue. He looked like his old self in a playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys but struggled against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game and in the Super Bowl.

Rams QB Jared Goff is still playing on his rookie contract, but hopes to cash in on another super season

Gurley did not participate in offseason team workouts. That was the first step in the Rams’ plan to manage the load they place on a player who last year signed an extension that included $45 million in guarantees.

Gurley, who underwent reconstructive left knee surgery in 2014, said in June that he felt fine and would be ready for his fifth NFL season.

The Rams re-signed running back Malcolm Brown and selected running back Darrell Henderson in the third round of the draft, presumably to lessen some of Gurley’s workload. But also as insurance.

During the offseason, McVay took a few weeks off, traveled and got engaged. So he should be rested and ready to field daily questions about Gurley.

Are offensive linemen Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen capable replacements for Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan?

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Noteboom and Allen, selected in the third and fourth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft, respectively, are stepping in for players that boast a combined 19 seasons and 267 games of NFL experience.

Noteboom is on track to start at left guard alongside veteran Andrew Whitworth. Allen is the projected starting center.

During the last two seasons, the offensive line’s continuity and performance played a key role in Goff’s development into a Pro Bowl quarterback. The line also helped pave the way for Gurley to become the 2017 NFL offensive player of the year and to sign the richest running back contract in league history.

Noteboom and Allen must show they can handle their roles with little or no drop-off.

Can Goff rebound from the Super Bowl?

Goff struggled in his first Super Bowl appearance, completing 19 of 38 passes and absorbing four sacks in the Rams’ worst offensive performance under McVay. Goff was late delivering a pass to receiver Brandin Cooks in the end zone, and also had a pass intercepted, all but clinching the Patriots’ victory.

But Goff, 24, has demonstrated the ability to learn and rebound from mistakes. He was 0-7 as a rookie, helped lead the Rams to the playoffs in his second season and to the Super Bowl in his third.

Gurley, starting receivers Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee return from last season, and Goff said this week that the familiarity with the group would work in his favor.

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Goff also said he was not worried about a contract extension. But with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz having received a massive one in June, all eyes are on Goff and the Rams to see if they work out a deal before the season begins.

Will Kupp be ready for the opener?

Kupp appeared on his way to a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2018 before he suffered a knee injury that required surgery.

Josh Reynolds stepped in and performed well, but Kupp’s absence affected the next-level synchronicity Goff developed with Cooks, Woods and Kupp.

Kupp was limited during offseason team workouts, though he did participate in some full-squad drills. Goff said he worked out with Kupp a few times in the last month and that the receiver looked strong and fast.

McVay has said the goal was to have Kupp available for the opener against the Panthers. So it remains to be seen how many reps coaches and trainers allow him to take during training camp.

Is nose tackle Greg Gaines ready to start as a rookie?

Gaines, a fourth-round draft pick from Washington, will compete to replace Suh on a line that also features two-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and veteran Michael Brockers.

Upon reporting to training camp, the 6-foot-1 Gaines said he had dropped eight pounds since the end of a June minicamp and weighed 307 pounds.

Sebastian Joseph-Day, a 2018 sixth-round draft pick from Rutgers, did not play in a game last season but he was regarded as one of the team’s most improved players during offseason workouts. At a listed 6-4 and 310 pounds, he also will be among those competing for a role.


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