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Rams ‘managing’ Matthew Stafford’s arm; QB2 John Wolford takes over

IRVINE, Calif. Matthew Stafford didn’t throw during Wednesday’s training camp practice, but head coach Sean McVay remains adamant that it’s all a part of “the plan” for the Rams’ 34-year-old quarterback.

Monday, McVay said Stafford was “still feeling a little bit of pain” in his arm/elbow, and that was the reasoning behind the visibly lighter workload Stafford had that day — which he clarified Wednesday was not a “setback” for Stafford.

“No, it’s consistent with what’s been going on,” McVay said. “When you really look at the totality of it, wanted to try to have him operate in as little pain as possible. I think that anytime that you’ve played as long or are as tough as he is, I don’t know if you’re ever truly ‘pain-free,’ but the goal would be for Sept. 8 and looking towards 17 games, hopefully some games after that … that’s kind of the perspective and the big-picture approach that we want to be able to take.

“I don’t know that I would be as comfortable taking that approach if it wasn’t for the experience that he’s accumulated and knowing how intentional he is about staying up to speed with his mental and physical work that he can do, in absence of some of the stuff in the team settings.”

Stafford had an anti-inflammatory injection in his arm in the spring and didn’t throw through OTAs. He did throw at the start of training camp, as part of what the Rams say is an “onload/de-load” process to get him ready not only for their Sept. 8 opener, but also for a very long season. While he has thrown in red zone and individual drills even on some “de-load” days, Stafford did not participate in team drills for the last two padded practices and isn’t likely to do so until the Rams are back in their regular facilities.

“We’re really taking it a week at a time, really a couple of weeks,” McVay said. “Don’t expect him to do anything in these team settings for this block or the next three days, next week. Nothing has changed. … This is part of the plan that we feel like is in his best interest.”

A few things can be simultaneously true:

• That Stafford and the Rams are trying to manage an ongoing arm issue that clearly bothered him in spots last season

• That the Rams are aware of this and have him on a dramatically different management plan than they did last offseason (when he took no snaps off)

• That they probably don’t want to make him throw at a high volume until he has to — when the Rams return to Thousand Oaks, Calif., later this month and actually begin installing their game plan for Buffalo

• And that an ongoing arm issue is legitimately a concern, though we don’t yet know how big of a concern, because when Stafford has thrown, he’s looked fine.

To me, the Rams are trying to control everything they can, while they can — because it’s unknown whether this issue will escalate through the course of the season.

So, Wednesday was No. 2 quarterback John Wolford’s second day with the first-team offense. He confirmed off-podium that was the expected plan entering training camp (that does at least jibe with McVay’s adamance that Stafford didn’t have a “surprise” setback).

“(Was it something that) I just realized out of thin air?” Wolford said sarcastically. “No, I think that was the plan from the get-go, is we knew training camp is long, and Stafford has played for, what is it, year No. 16 or whatever? (Editor’s note: Stafford is entering his 14th season.) There’s no reason to drive him into the ground. Yeah, I was anticipating (this) walking into camp.”

Wolford played really well with his increased snap share on Wednesday. While he did miss receiver Cooper Kupp once or twice (once throwing too wide toward the sideline), he also hit second-year receiver Tutu Atwell on a 50-yard touchdown down the sideline in team drills early in the day.

Most jaw-dropping was Wolford’s work with veteran receiver Allen Robinson, to whom he threw multiple touchdown passes. By far the most impressive throw and catch of the day was a high pass from Wolford toward the back corner of the end zone, which Robinson stretched up and snagged with one hand despite being draped by rookie cornerback Derion Kendrick.

“That was exciting,” Wolford said of Robinson, his eyes widening. “He’s been great. How quickly he’s gotten the offense is pretty unbelievable. He’s a pro’s pro. Comes in, works, and then he’s got freakish ability. He’s going to help our team a bunch, (and) I’m happy to get these reps with him. It’s nice and easy when you just throw it up there and go, ‘Ho-leeee shit.‘”

Wolford also found a rhythm with Kupp as the day continued.

The two were especially in-sync later in practice, when Wolford hit Kupp on some pretty needle-threads in the middle of the field (Kupp’s ability to get open in tight spaces is really interesting to watch, during practices when media can be so close to the action). They finished the day on a closely-argued third-down throw and catch, which Kupp felt resulted in a touchdown as he crossed the plane (but was argued on a technicality of the team’s safety rules, in that receivers can’t stretch out for those types of scores).

“You talk to any of the guys (and they’ll say), ‘John goes about his business,’” Kupp said. “He’s got a process. … He’s pushing himself, he’s challenging himself to be the best version of himself so when he steps in and these kinds of situations come up, we can kind of move into that place (of) him (stepping) in and running the show.”

With Wolford likely running the first-team for all team and 7-on-7 periods over the next few days, it’s important that the Rams feel he can not only move the ball, but also specifically get the receivers the type of work they need on a variety of throws.

“Those are the expectations I have for when I play,” he said. “You’re just busting your ass to be the best player that you can. I don’t try to put too much pressure on myself. I know every day I’m doing the best I can to be the best I can, and chips fall where they may. But I know if I’m doing that, then whatever anyone else says, I don’t give a shit. It’s just me trying to be me.”

More notes and observations from another Rams padded training camp practice:

(A reminder: The Rams often structure their live periods to run the second team against the first team on each side of the ball. First-team-versus-first-team periods will be specified in reports. Media members cannot report on schemes or the depth chart unless addressing it directly with a coach/player in an interview, but otherwise, the full practice is open to credentialed viewers.)

• McVay said he was “encouraged” by team doctors’ assessments following Van Jefferson’s surgery on Tuesday. My understanding is that the surgery went very well, and that it’s not out of the question to believe Jefferson could return by the Sept. 8 opener in just under 40 days, but the team won’t rush him back. Meanwhile, McVay declined to place a public timeline on Jefferson’s recovery.

“Very optimistic that things went according to plan, and we’ll take this a little bit at a time,” he said.

• Third-year outside linebacker Terrell Lewis is moving well, but that’s not a new phenomenon. Lewis, who entered the NFL having to manage an ongoing knee issue, has been healthy for about a year at this point. But in 2021, he was a healthy scratch for the latter part of the season.

“It was frustrating,” Lewis said Wednesday. “I feel like I learned a lot from that whole situation. That’s another reason why I feel like I have that chip on my shoulder every day. My biggest goal lately is just like, ‘I want to play in a Super Bowl.’ That kinda bothered me a lot.

“Mentally it took me awhile to get over it and say, ‘What can you learn from that? What can you gain from this experience?’ … Of not only learning from a player like Von (Miller), but also learning the business and how things go throughout a season where you may just have to be the odd man out … It definitely felt weird, just because I’ve never been out of a game other than health. So it just felt like, ‘Now that I’m healthy, why the hell am I not playing?’”

• It’s about that time of year when a few players start to emerge as “sticky guys” who could catch on to the roster for special teams (perhaps more).

Inside linebacker Jake Hummel was among those who drew praise from special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis (remember, the Rams are trying to replace the substantial role Troy Reeder played in that phase) this week. I think Hummel may ultimately be in the mix for the “No. 4” spot at inside linebacker, with Travin Howard out for an unknown amount of time and Christian Rozeboom clearly the No. 3 (the No. 4 would largely contribute on special teams).

Meanwhile, receiver Brandon Powell is still clearly the No. 1 on punt and kick return, and in his first full camp with the team has been given opportunities on the first or second-team offense, too (especially lately with Jefferson out). Wednesday he got some opportunities run-blocking with the first team, and it’s clear he’s willing to sell out to grade the road as needed. Powell wouldn’t be in the “four-spot” or maybe even the “five-spot” of rotating receivers once Jefferson is back, but is making a case for the Rams to keep him around.

As of now, I’d put Riley Dixon in the lead at the punter spot, but having Cameron Dicker’s versatility and competition around in training camp doesn’t hurt.

Outside linebacker Daniel Hardy can crack some playing time early on if he keeps up the good work on special teams.

(Photo of Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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