After seven weeks of Zoom meetings and not a single on-field team workout with coaches, the Rams on Thursday concluded their virtual offseason program.
“I’m virtual-meetinged out right now,” coach Sean McVay said jokingly during a videoconference with reporters.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL mandated that offseason programs be conducted virtually. The league on Thursday said teams could extend the program through June 26, but the Rams are among teams that ended theirs this week.
Veteran players are tentatively scheduled to report for training camp at the Rams’ facility in Thousand Oaks on July 28, McVay said. Rookies, quarterbacks and players recovering from injuries could report a few days earlier.
McVay said his team completed productive work during virtual meetings, which were conducted four days a week. Quarterback Jared Goff said this week that he and some teammates participated in players-only workouts away from the facility after COVID-19 related state and county restrictions were eased.
McVay addressed players for the final time Thursday morning.
“It’s uncharted territory that we’re navigating through,” he said he told them. "In the meantime give yourself a chance to kind of decompress but make sure you establish your process, your rhythm.
“I feel like we’ve been able to gain an edge in the midst of all the things going on, and we’ve got to maintain that edge so we can hit the ground running when we come back.”
The Rams are attempting to bounce back from last season’s 9-7 finish that left them out of the playoffs for the first time in three seasons under McVay. They are scheduled to play the New Orleans Saints in a preseason opener at new SoFi Stadium on Aug. 14. The regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys is scheduled for Sept. 13 at the $5-billion stadium.
The NFL announced last week that teams cannot conduct joint preseason practices, a setting highly valued by coaches because they can activate starters in a controlled setting and reduce the risk of injuries. Those practices have enabled McVay to hold out starters from preseason games.
The NFL is reportedly considering reducing the preseason from four games to two. Asked how that might affect his decision to play or not play starters, McVay said the situation remained fluid.
“Committing to one approach right now wouldn’t be the smartest way to go about it,” he said. “I think guys need to get work. How we deem that ends up getting done, whether it’s in our practices or whether we’re going to play guys in the preseason I think will be something that we’ll determine at a later date.”
Goff, preparing for his fifth NFL season, said this week that he had been the “ringleader” for organizing workouts away from the team facility. Initially, the workouts included quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends. They expanded to include running backs, defensive backs and linebackers.
“It’s been really good kind of seeing the leadership at different positions,” Goff said.
Receiver Robert Woods said it was sometimes challenging “bouncing from field to field, getting kicked out every now and then.” But the 90-minute workouts were productive, he said.
“All we need is 50 yards of space and we’re able to work,” he said.
McVay said he received positive reports about the workouts.
“The most important thing that I think is as beneficial as anything is the guys are connecting and they’re getting together as teammates,” he said. ”Getting to know one another, establishing a rapport, making sure that they’re being smart with how they compete.”
When the Rams gather for training camp, it will be the first time that new offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, new special teams coordinator John Bonamego and new running backs Thomas Brown will work with players on the field.
The absence of team workouts with coaches during the offseason prevented the defense from practicing a new system. But a preponderance of returning players on offense, coupled with their familiarity with McVay’s system, gave the Rams “an advantage” in the offseason and now going into the season, Goff said.
“You’ve got teams that are really trying to install both the offense and defense virtually, which is damn near impossible,” he said.