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Rams assistant coaches who survived cancer push on during pandemic

From left, Rams coach Sean McVay introduces Kevin O'Connell, Brandon Staley and John Bonamego in February 2020.
From left, Rams coach Sean McVay introduces new assistant coaches Kevin O’Connell, Brandon Staley and John Bonamego in February. Staley, 37, and Bonamego, 57, are cancer survivors.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

Health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic caused some NFL players and officials to opt out from participating this season.

Coaches, who are not part of a union, do not have the option.

Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, 37, and special-teams coordinator John Bonamego, 57, are cancer survivors. Both are helping prepare the Rams for their Sept. 13 opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Staley overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his 20s. He said Saturday that he did not consider not coaching this season.

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“I think a lot of it, as we’ve learned about this virus, is that your age bracket is very significant,” he said during a videoconference with reporters. “And then certainly how recent you may have gone through whatever trials that you went through.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve been past it for going on 12 years now, so I feel confident in where I’m at that I’ve been a clean bill of health. I’m still a young man relatively speaking.”

Rams tight end Tyler Higbee knows how much Travis Kelce and George Kittle are getting paid, and he’s ready to show his true worth in 2020.

Staley, who is married and the father of three children, said his father was being treated for prostate cancer. His mother died from cancer in 2004.

Staley is more than a decade removed from his own battle.

“Sometimes I just forget it even happened,” he said.

Bonamego overcame tonsil cancer that was diagnosed and treated in 2015.

“I had no reservations about coaching at all,” Bonamego said through a team spokesman. Bonamego is expected to be made available to reporters in a videoconference later in training camp.

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The Rams have had several players affected by the pandemic.

Offensive lineman Brian Allen tested positive in the spring, offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth during summer. Both recovered and are participating in training camp.

Offensive lineman Chandler Brewer, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, opted out of the season. Rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis tested positive when he reported for training camp, but he was activated from the COVID/IR list to the roster on Friday.

Staley said every person’s situation is different.

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“What this virus has shown is that you can’t just make a one statement fits all,” he said. “Every person is going to have a different circumstance and you have to respect that position, and I feel great about where I’m at health-wise.

“And I think all of us that have been through something like that have the utmost respect for people that are going through something like that.”

Rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, a third-round draft pick from Alabama, was activated to the Rams’ roster from the COVID/IR list.

During the last three seasons, Staley was the outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. Rams coach Sean McVay hired him to replace veteran coordinator Wade Phillips as the Rams attempt to rebound from a 9-7 finish that left them out of the playoffs.

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The pandemic forced NFL teams to conduct offseason programs virtually. So Staley had been eager to get onto the field with players.

In the last two weeks, the Rams conducted walk-throughs as part of their acclimation phase of training camp.

“That was one of the challenging things about the spring time,” Staley said. “I think we could bring to life actually what was going to be happening, but until a player actually feels what that is, it will never come to life.

“And I think that’s what’s been the exciting thing about the last couple days is being able to get out on the field and feel it and live it.”

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Staley took over a defense that will include position battles at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and at slot cornerback. He has indicated the 3-4 hybrid scheme will take advantage of player versatility.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safety John Johnson have noted Staley’s energy.

“In the meeting room, he is a little — I wouldn’t say screamer — he’s aggressive in the meeting rooms because that is where we are learning, that’s how he gets his point across,” Johnson said “On the field, he’s calm.

“I don’t know how he’s going to be on game day, but he keeps it nice and neat.”

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The pandemic has led to the postponement of the season by several college football conferences, but the NFL is moving toward playing a full schedule.

The Rams are following league-mandated protocols.

“We’re all a team in this,” Staley said, “and I think that hopefully, through us doing things the right way as an organization, people can see an example of how we all should be.”


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