Rams’ Matthew Stafford goes through the interview motions before camp
He met face-to-face with Rams reporters Sunday for the first time and was as flat and to the point as a five-yard out, as unrevealing as a coach holding a play sheet over his mouth.
Stafford has submitted to these media sessions his entire adult life, from his college days at Georgia to his last 12 seasons as quarterback of the Detroit Lions. The setting now is different, with Stafford standing on a hotel deck in Newport Beach and boats bobbing on the Pacific in the distance.
“Driving up here is different than driving to The Henry in Detroit,” he said, referring to the Lions’ training camp hotel. “There’s a bunch of new experiences for me. I’m just enjoying them all and trying to focus on the main thing, which is football at the moment.”
This much hasn’t changed: He’s starting another NFL season without a running game.
That’s not the way it was supposed to be. This was going to be the season when Stafford finally got a ground attack, when his team wasn’t solely reliant on his right arm. The last time the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season was 2013 with Reggie Bush. Other than that, the Motor City hasn’t had a real engine in the backfield since the Barry Sanders days.
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Sanders had three more 100-yard games in a season (14) than the combined total that running backs had for Stafford in his entire time in Detroit.
But that was going to change in Los Angeles. The Rams don’t have a dominant running game, per se, but they ranked 10th in the NFL last season at 126 yards per game — 33 more than the 30th-ranked Lions. What’s more, they had a rising star in second-year back Cam Akers, who was increasingly effective in the second half of his rookie year, ran for 846 yards and scored five touchdowns in 15 games (including playoffs) and seemed destined for a strong second season.
Akers suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon while working out last week, leaving the Rams without a clear answer at running back.
“Really the biggest gut punch was for the kid,” Stafford said. “It’s so difficult. I dealt with injuries my first couple of years. ... That one’s obviously a tough one, and one that’s going to take some time. I really feel for him more so than I do us as a team. I know we’ll miss him. He’s a great player.”
The running back cupboard isn’t entirely bare for the Rams. They have Darrell Henderson, a 2019 third-round pick whose first two NFL seasons ended because of ankle injuries. He started 11 games last season and ran for 624 yards and five touchdowns, and his role to this point has been more of a change-of-pace back than a workhorse. They also have the lightly experienced Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais, along with rookies Jake Funk and Otis Anderson.
“I have a lot of belief and a lot of trust in the guys that we have in that locker room and on the coaching staff,” Stafford said. “No matter who’s back there, we’re going to have a successful running game.”
Stafford was friendly and polite Sunday but by-the-book boring in his comments. However, he’s a different guy when he’s mic’d up on the field. In fact, NFL Films put him at the top of the list of quarterbacks to whom they have ever taped a microphone. In those instances, he has consistently been demonstrative and dramatic, both in words and in play.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is entering his 13th NFL season, but feels like a new start with the Rams. Teammates can first look at his talents.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in May, Stafford said: "[Lions executive] Bill Keenist would tell me, ‘Hey, Films wants to mic you up.’ I’d be like, ‘Be ready for a rollercoaster this week, boys.’ It was a fun thing that we joked about. Those are such cool things. I grew up watching those. Hearing the music and seeing the old films and knowing that at some point down the road a kid who’s 8 or 10 is probably watching those thinking those are pretty cool. Maybe down the road being part of some kid’s journey to do what I do is pretty cool. Something I’ll always have forever. As crazy as they were in the moment, they made for some good TV.”
Now, most of the color coming out of the Stafford camp is from his wife, Kelly, on her Instagram account. Sunday evening, she posted from the perspective of their four young daughters.
“First night without daddy,” she wrote. “Depressing, so pb&j for the whole crew as a pick me up.”
The Rams are hoping Stafford serves up something far less mundane. He has the arm to do it — a throwing arm that’s all the more essential now.
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