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With Matthew Stafford limited, backup QBs taking on bigger roles for Rams

From left, Rams quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Bryce Perkins and John Wolford work on a drill simultaneously.
From left, Rams quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Bryce Perkins and John Wolford work on a drill simultaneously.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Star quarterback Matthew Stafford has an elbow problem, a condition he is expected to play through this season as the Rams aim to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

But John Wolford and Bryce Perkins — and coach Sean McVay — are preparing for the worst-case scenario:

What if Stafford, a 14th-year pro, was sidelined for a play, a series, a game or more because of complications from tendonitis in his throwing arm or another injury?

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With Stafford on a reduced workload for training camp, during full-squad drills Wolford is taking first-team snaps, Perkins second as the Rams prepare for preseason games against the Chargers, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals before the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford says Sean McVay’s comments about his elbow soreness have gotten “a lot more traction” than he thought they would get.

McVay does not play starters or other key players in preseason games, so for the second year in a row, Wolford will watch from the sideline as Perkins gets work. Camp quarterback Luis Perez also is expected to play in preseason games.

Wolford is attempting to maximize the uncommon, extended opportunity to work with the starters during training camp practices.

“I’ve got to take advantage of all these reps out here,” he said. “Much like the older guys do, right, we’re refining their craft and trying not to get guys hurt. And when I get these reps I’ve got to make the most of them.”

Wolford, 26, signed with the Rams in 2019 after a record-setting career at Wake Forest and time in the defunct Alliance of American Football. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Wolford has not experienced extensive playing time since the end of the 2020 season.

Jared Goff was nursing a broken thumb, so McVay started Wolford in the finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

Injured Rams quarterback Jared Goff stands next to John Wolford (9) before a game in January 2021.
John Wolford got a chance to play against the Arizona Cardinals in January 2021 when Rams starter Jared Goff, left, was injured. He has since changed his number to 13 to allow Matthew Stafford to wear his usual No. 9.
(Associated Press)

Wolford appeared nervous at the outset — his first pass was intercepted — but he settled in to complete 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards and rushed for 56 yards in an 18-7 victory.

Goff said he was ready to play in a wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, but McVay benched him in favor of Wolford.

Late in the first quarter, Wolford attempted to scramble. Seahawks safety Jamal Adams tackled him, knocking Wolford out of the game and sending him to the hospital for precautionary measures because of an apparent neck injury. Goff came on and led the Rams to victory.

Last season, Wolford played in three games and completed one of four passes. He returned to the Rams this season as an exclusive-rights free agent.

“He’s a mentally tough guy,” McVay said last week. “He’s ultraconscientious. He really works so hard at it … and he’s a fiery competitor.”

Wolford is accustomed to running the scout team against the first-team defense. Now he is running the first-team offense.

Dick Vermeil worked with some of the greatest football coaches, but it was advice from John Wooden at UCLA that prompted the coach’s great career.

“There’s just a little higher level of expectations because you’re running with the ones — with the guys who have done it a bunch,” Wolford said. “But I have those expectations with myself no matter when I’m on the field.

“So for me, it’s just. ‘Hey, do the best I can.’”

Wolford is not attempting to duplicate Stafford.

“We’re different players with different skill sets,” he said. “And I can’t press if, you know, he can rip the ball 75 yards throwing across his body. I’m not going to force a throw like that.”

Early in training camp, Stafford participated in team drills. Then last week, McVay and team trainers limited his work to individual drills and seven-on-seven situations. That plan will remain in place at least through the final three practices this week at UC Irvine.

In Stafford’s place, Wolford is doing “a great job,” star receiver Cooper Kupp said.

Rams’ Aaron Donald is a three-time defensive player of the year, but says at 31 experience has made it is easier to get his body in shape for the NFL.

“He’s challenging himself to be the best version of him, so that when he steps in and these kind of situations come up, we can kind of move into that place where he can kind step in and run the show,” Kupp said.

Perkins, 25, played his final college seasons at Virginia and signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2020. During the 2021 preseason, he completed 56 of 91 passes for 494 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. He also rushed for 129 yards.

Perkins performed so well, he made the 53-man roster, preventing other teams from signing him. He spent most of last season on the practice squad.

“I’ve definitely seen an improvement as far as how I handle the whole overall operation from last year to this year,” Perkins said.

The 6-3, 214-pound Perkins spends much of practice going against the Rams’ No. 1 defense. That requires avoiding pressure from lineman Aaron Donald and linebackers Leonard Floyd, Bobby Wagner.

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins throws a pass in training camp last year.
(John McCoy / Associated Press)

“At times, it gets a little hectic back there,” Perkins said, adding, “There’s not another team that’s going to be as aggressive as his group. This is the best of the best.

“If you can operate against our defense, it makes it easier when you go against others.”

When the second-team offensive line is going against Donald and others, “it can be a free-for-all at times,” McVay said.

Yet Perkins has demonstrated the ability to play through those situations.

“All the reps that he’s getting out here is going to serve him well,” McVay said. “I think you’re going to see that reflected in the way he plays in the preseason.”


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