Rams’ youth movement was exactly what Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford needed

Sean McVay was burned out after the 2022 season. It was the most trying year of his career, watching his battered and bruised team limp to a 5-12 record without Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp or Aaron Donald on the field at the end of the season.

When the Rams finally reached the end of the season, McVay was non-committal on his future in coaching. He took some time to contemplate whether he wanted to coach again in 2023, weighing the possibility of stepping away for a year or more.

He ultimately decided to return and maintain his post as the Rams’ head coach, and the team is sure glad he did. He led the Rams to a 10-7 record and postseason appearance this year despite pre-season expectations being set low by experts and even fans.

With the second-youngest roster in the NFL, McVay had a new challenge of leading a bunch of first- and second-year players, testing his patience after previously fielding a team loaded with Pro Bowlers and superstars.

It turns out, that’s exactly what he needed. The same goes for Matthew Stafford.

The youth in the Rams’ locker room breathed new life into everyone in the building, McVay included. After their playoff loss to the Lions on Sunday night, the 37-year-old head coach described how much this team meant to him and how much it helped him find his passion for coaching again.

“I’m so proud of this football team,” McVay said. “And the finality of it is still kind of – it doesn’t totally resonate. But man, did I learn a lot and really appreciate this group. They helped me find my way again and how much I love this and love the people that I’m around. … More than anything, just the appreciation and the gratitude is what sticks out to me about this team.

McVay is typically filled with energy and positivity, but he was lacking both during the 2022 season when the Rams were struggling as badly as they were. There’s no doubt he regained that same zest for football this season that we saw in his first five years, and the Rams’ youth is a big reason for that.

It was a bit of a reset year where he got the chance to teach rookies and first-year starters. He even said in May that the Rams took a new approach to practice with so much inexperience, simply practicing more than they used to when the roster was filled with established stars.

In a year when the Rams were counted out, McVay watched his team ignore the outside noise and play the best football they could – and they played hard week in and week out.

“I think the further that you get away from the raw emotions of it, the more appreciation they’ll have for what they did,” McVay said. “And I think there’s a lot of things that we can build on, but you got to do it. As we know, and this group is an example of it, the preseason stuff doesn’t mean (expletive). You’ve got to be able to go earn it and every single year is a new year, but I do think we’ve got a lot of really key and critical guys that we’re excited about building and continuing to develop and work with. And then there’s a lot of guys that might not be here that, man, I loved working with them. Certainly learned a lot from this group.”

Stafford, the oldest player on the Rams’ roster, was seemingly struggling to connect with the young players on the team, something he even told his wife – who then shared it publicly. Stafford denied that he couldn’t get on the same page with his younger teammates, but it’s understandable that a 35-year-old quarterback might not be on the same page as his 22-year-old teammates.

However, being around such a youthful and unproven group was perfect for the veteran signal caller. He shared a similar sentiment as McVay when discussing the Rams’ young roster after the season finale in Detroit, telling reporters that they gave him “a jolt of injury” despite it being a challenge at the same time.

“Man, it was fun. I had a blast,” he said. “It was a heck of a challenge, but I got to sit there and push guys, but also watch guys come into their own in this league and it’s not an easy thing to do. We got a lot of young guys and not only rookies, but guys who hadn’t played a lot of football, but stepped into big-time roles and became huge pieces of our team and stars in our league. So proud of those guys and happy to be a part of a team that has a group of guys like that. It takes everybody, right? It takes coaches, it takes trainers, strength staff, everything, to get to these points in the season and came up a little bit short today, but really proud of those guys.”

McVay is going to be back next year. Stafford said he plans to be, too. Before the season, McVay committed to coaching the Rams for several years, so he likely would’ve returned regardless of how the 2023 campaign went.

Stafford? Who knows. Had the Rams gone 5-12 again and showed little signs of growth, he might’ve moved even closer to retirement. But following a 10-7 season with so much untapped potential already on the roster, he can’t walk away knowing the Rams could be legitimate Super Bowl contenders as early as next season.

Story originally appeared on Rams Wire