Column: Sean McVay’s plight: Preach patience, sell hope and say prayers for untested Rams

Rams coach Sean McVay imitates a stance he is teaching.
Rams coach Sean McVay has had to do more teaching this season in training camp because of a young roster.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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The vapor trails left by Rams players as they dashed off the field at UC Irvine were still hanging in the air Tuesday when workers swooped in to pack mats, nets and other equipment for the transition to the team’s Thousand Oaks training facility. The first part of training camp had ended. But the work for the Rams, coming off a dismal and injury-marred 5-12 season and a seventh straight draft without a first-round pick, has only just begun.

Prepare to hear the word “patience” a lot this season, as in coach Sean McVay learning to be patient with new and young players; as in those players being patient during the process of getting to get to know each other and their roles.

Also, as in fans being asked to patiently sit through what might be another five-win season and wait for the Rams’ front office to spend big money on premier free agents next season, after keeping the purse strings tight this off-season, and drafting with smarts.


The Rams are selling hope, and that’s a tough sell in Los Angeles. They went all in for their Super Bowl title in 2022, which was the right thing to do. They have that championship and those rings but the mortgage on their future is coming due.

There might be days when McVay, who had hinted at retiring because of the stress he experienced last season, might wish he had taken a cushy broadcasting job instead of saying in January that he would return. There were times during training camp that he appeared frustrated. Prepare to see a lot of that this season, too, though he’s trying to cast the situation in the most positive light possible.

Rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett, 25, won two titles with Georgia and has shown during training camp what he’s capable of doing with the Rams offense.

July 31, 2023

“This is a really fun group to go with, to continue to come out here and try to get better,” he said Tuesday.

This figures to be the biggest challenge of McVay’s meteoric coaching career. He will have to find progress in small measures instead of great leaps, will have to hope for the best when the worst is lurking not far in the shadows. How well he handles that process will go a long way toward determining if the hope the Rams are selling is real, or fool’s gold.

“I think you just take it a day at a time,” he said of his approach. “As a coach, I think you have to have some level of patience, but I think there’s a necessary urgency as well. You want to make sure that it’s an uplifting urgency and not something to where you’re not learning your learner and doing a good job connecting with these guys. And I think our coaches have done an outstanding job with that.

“Whether we’ve got youth or whether you’re just resetting it with a veteran group, ultimately we have to do a great job as teachers connecting with our players and then give them an opportunity to go play with a quieted mind.”


McVay had said before camp he wanted to see progress. He found that in some areas, especially in the defense. The unit cleaned up some sloppiness that previously had crept in when first-tier players were replaced with youngsters.

“Things that we’ve emphasized, and there’s so many different situations as you’ve seen that we’ve really worked on: Different phases on early downs. Third downs. Two-minute, four-minute, tight red area,” he said. “So I have seen improved understanding. I have seen improved execution within the calls on both sides of the football. I felt we’ve gotten better on teams. But we still have a long way to go.”

Rams coach Sean McVay talks with quarterbacks (from left) Matthew Stafford,  Brett Rypien and Stetson Bennett.
Rams coach Sean McVay talks with quarterbacks (from left) Matthew Stafford, Brett Rypien and Stetson Bennett.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

And not much time to get there, with their preseason opener against the Chargers looming Saturday.

McVay smiled when he was asked about the return of free-agent safety John Johnson, who spent four seasons with the Rams before leaving for Cleveland in 2021. Johnson participated in individual drills and some other parts of practice Tuesday but still is getting acclimated.

“It’s great to be able to have him back. Just another really good player who obviously was here from the start when we got here in ‘17 and was a foundational piece,” McVay said.


Johnson also brought up 2017 in a nostalgic way when asked how McVay had greeted him.

“We started here together. His first year was my first year so we built the thing up,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t here to get the final reward, but we’ve had a lot of talks over the phone, like it feels like 2017, refresh, regroup, and he will want me to help lead the way on that.”

The Rams’ secondary is young and inexperienced, so adding a veteran safety in John Johnson (a former Ram) gives stability and leadership to back end of defense.

Aug. 9, 2023

But comparisons to 2017 don’t fully hold. That was a veteran team with outstanding pieces in place, including defensive tackle Aaron Donald and running back Todd Gurley. It was a team on the rise. The current team is in a netherworld, still with Donald to lead the way on defense but overall with far less of an upside.

Johnson, too, is preaching patience.

“I played in this system, but obviously there’s a new coordinator and some of the terminology is different, so I have to be patient myself,” he said. “I’m learning just like everybody else. Obviously, I have a step ahead, but you definitely have to be patient. That’s a part of the game.

“You have a couple years where you build up a team and at a certain point you’re just going to have to rebuild. And I’m not calling it a rebuild because we’ve got core pieces in place that have played at a high level. There is a lot of new faces, but patience is easy to have in a place like this.”

It might not always be easy, but it’s going to be necessary in large doses.