For the Rams to be super, these players must step up and deliver
The venue was built for big events, perhaps none more important to Rams owner Stan Kroenke than the Super Bowl.
In February, $5-billion SoFi Stadium will be the site for Super Bowl LVI, and the Rams’ offseason moves make it clear Kroenke expects to showcase his team in the NFL’s showcase event.
Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited capacity to about 25,000. The NFL has not determined capacity for Super Bowl LVI, but it is expected to exceed 70,000 in expandable SoFi Stadium.
Regardless, playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium provides Rams players with added incentive.
“Oh yeah, a little extra, I would say,” star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
After losing in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs last season, general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay made a major move, trading quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. They also signed veteran receiver DeSean Jackson.
Rams new running back Sony Michel was surprised by the trade, and now it’s a matter of learning the playbook before the Sept. 12 opener against Chicago.
“I can’t sit there and spend a bunch of time daydreaming about that kind of stuff,” Stafford said of playing in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium. “It’s always nice to think about, but a majority of my time is spent trying to make sure that I’m ready to go every single day.”
With the Chargers poaching Brandon Staley to become their coach, McVay hired Raheem Morris to lead a defense that ranked among the NFL’s best in 2020.
McVay also hired Joe DeCamillis as special teams coordinator.
McVay led the Rams to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season with a star-studded team. There is plenty of star power on this season’s roster, but other players must perform well for the Rams to return to the league’s championship game.
McVay said he was focused on the Sept. 12 opener against the Chicago Bears, not playing in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium.
“That’s where my focus is and that’s where our players are,” McVay said. “Now, if you ask them and you say, ‘Hey, do you want to play in the Super Bowl in your home stadium?’ I think everybody would say, ‘yes.’
“But they know the way that you get there is by being totally and completely present.”
A look at who must step up for the Rams:
Quarterback Matthew Stafford: Stafford amassed plenty of impressive statistics during 12 seasons with the Lions, and with an array of talented Rams skill position players he almost certainly will look good in McVay’s offense.
But Stafford — and McVay — will be judged by whether the Rams reach the Super Bowl. Stafford is 0-3 in postseason games.
Running backs Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel: With Cam Akers sidelined because of a season-ending Achilles injury, the Rams turned to Henderson as a possible featured back.
But Henderson’s durability is a question mark, so the Rams traded for Michel, a fourth-year pro who twice has totaled more than 200 carries and 900 yards in a season and helped the New England Patriots defeat the Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII.
Receiver Jackson: The Rams signed Jackson, one of the NFL’s most dynamic deep threats for more than a decade, to fill a huge void.
Jackson played in only eight games in the last two seasons because of injuries. So McVay and the Rams training staff are limiting his practice reps to make sure he is available because his speed stretches defenses immensely and creates opportunities for others.
The Rams know they need DeSean Jackson’s speed to stretch defenses this season, so they have strategically rested the veteran to make sure he’s healthy for the season opener.
Center Brian Allen: Austin Blythe signed a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, and McVay’s preseason experiment of moving Austin Corbett to center did not pan out.
Allen, sidelined half of the 2019 season and all last season while recovering from knee surgery, aims to show he is recovered and worthy of the starting role he had two years ago.
Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson: Three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald lost longtime teammate Michael Brockers, and Robinson is expected to fill Brockers’ role.
But Robinson recently underwent knee surgery and could be sidelined or slowed early in the season. If that happens, rookie Bobby Brown III will have more opportunities. Donald becomes more dynamic with a solid sidekick.
Cornerback David Long: Troy Hill, who intercepted three passes and scored three touchdowns in 2020, signed with the Cleveland Browns, and his reliability could be missed. Long, a third-year pro, could get the initial opportunity to replace him as a slot cornerback in a position group that includes Ramsey and Darious Williams. Versatile safety/corner Terrell Burgess also could fill the role.
Safety Jordan Fuller: John Johnson also cashed in with the Browns, leaving the defense with a talent and leadership void. Fuller, a mature second-year pro, was voted a team captain and will replace Johnson as the defensive signal-caller. Replacing a veteran not only in position but in direction is a tall task.
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