Rams hope exploiting mismatches springs Todd Gurley in 2017


Gregg Rosenthal recaps all the news as minicamps get underway around the NFL.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Todd Gurley was easy to find last season: usually buried under the opposition a few yards ahead of the line of scrimmage. New Rams head coach Sean McVay is on a mission to make Gurley more difficult to locate.

The third-year running back moved around the offensive formation throughout the first day of Rams minicamp Tuesday. Occasionally, he lined up wide outside two receivers. On another snap, he motioned from out wide into the backfield before running a route in the other direction. He saw a lot of targets from quarterback Jared Goff in the passing game, often appearing to be the primary read.

A talented running back making noise as a receiver isn’t revolutionary in the year 2017, but the Rams did not run a modern offense last season, when Gurley picked up a paltry 3.2 yards per carry. McVay spoke Tuesday about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ standout ability to create mismatches, a trait that McVay shares. He wants to put his Rams players in better matchups than they were in a year ago. Gurley is doing his best to put last season behind him, even if the personal struggles of the former Offensive Rookie of the Year remain a sore spot.

“4-12 is definitely not the season anyone wants. I don’t really care about what I do individually,” Gurley said.

While that’s not necessarily what Gurley’s prospective fantasy football owners want to hear, he should be in a better position to succeed with a more flexible offense. The hope is that the Rams‘ young cornerstones have grown up. Goff said that he and Gurley now have a better understanding about their roles and responsibilities on the team. Goff stressed the importance of being able to get past a bad play in practice or in games.

“The faster you can get over something like that, the better you are,” Goff said.

He may as well have been talking about the entire Rams 2016 season.

Happy returns

The best player in a Rams uniform Tuesday didn’t take a snap, yet he made the biggest news. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had skipped all of OTAs, showed up for mandatory minicamp. He spent most of the session doing individual work and then sprinting under the California sun with a hoodie on. It appears unlikely that Donald will fully practice this week, but his presence signals there won’t be an acrimonious contract standoff. Donald’s big deal getting done is likely a matter of when, not if.


Similar reunions played out Tuesday throughout the NFL as football in shorts season began to wind down.

Jaguars left tackle Branden Albert reported for work in Jacksonville, ending his apparent contract stalemate before the real football starts. He won’t get a dollar more out of his new team, but Albert surely had a veteran’s understanding that practices in May and June only matter so much.

Odell Beckham was also back with the Giants and insisted his OTAs absence was not related to his contract. Still, don’t be surprised if this is one of the last times Beckham hits the field before the Giants pay him more money than Nike currently does. Unlike Albert, who is a 32-year-old offensive lineman, Beckham — a transcendent 24-year-old receiver who can hit the open market after the 2018 season — has the leverage to get a new contract before the season.

Eagles tackle Jason Peters, Eagles linebacker Marcus Smith, Redskins running back Matt Jones and Panthers tackle Michael Oher were among the players returning to their respective facilities for the first time all offseason. To paraphrase a wise philosopher king, they’re just there so they won’t get fined.

Le’Veon Bell doesn’t have to worry about that. He wasn’t at Steelers minicamp because he’s not required to be. As an unsigned player who was given a franchise-tag offer, Bell is operating under a different timeline. He and the Steelers have until July 15 to work out a contract. Spoiler alert: One way or another, Bell will be back in black and gold before the important practices start.

As teams wrap up their offseason programs, storylines that inspired too much conversation in this desolate portion of the NFL calendar will soon evaporate into thin air.

So what else mattered Tuesday?

The other stories you should know as most teams opened minicamp:

1) Michael Oher‘s return to the Panthers facility was significant, but it’s not the end of his story. The veteran tackle was set to meet with team doctors but reportedly did not hit the practice field. Oher’s future in the league is very much up in the air because of his lingering concussion symptoms.

2) Ravens tight end Ben Watson hit the practice field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon last year. Normally, a 36-year-old would have a difficult time making a team’s roster, but ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported that Watson will earn $750,000 guaranteed on a restructured contract that also included a sizable pay cut. That gives Watson a terrific chance of making the team.

3) Former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson appears to be an afterthought with this new Rams coaching staff. He was not taking snaps with the first or second team during minicamp Tuesday. Due $3.2 million this season, Robinson is a strong candidate to be released before the season.

4) Robinson has learned that first-team snaps are handled with care, even at this time of year. That’s why it’s notable the Browns are rotating rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in with the starters. All signs point to Kizer being a real part of the team’s quarterback competition.


5) Colts coach Chuck Pagano confirmed that Andrew Luck is not throwing yet following offseason shoulder surgery. Pagano is “praying” that Luck will be ready for camp, but it sounds like wishful thinking at this stage.

6) Jeremy Maclin will earn $11 million over his two-year contract with the Ravens, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The money tells a story because it’s a nearly identical pact to the one Mike Wallace received from the Ravens. Forget the notion that Maclin could be the best receiver Joe Flacco‘s ever played with. There’s little reason to think Maclin will be ahead of Wallace, who was excellent last season. I’d expect Maclin, Wallace and third-year pro Breshad Perriman to split Flacco’s attention evenly three ways.

7) I’ll give the final word of the day to Bill Belichick, who is waging his annual war against anyone reminding his team how good it used to be.

“It was a great night,” Belichick said about the team’s recent ring ceremony. “But, really, we need to move on to 2017. You know, we’ve had enough parades, enough celebrations and enough everything. This ’17 team hasn’t done anything yet — none of us have.”

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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