IRVINE, CA-Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay was fortunate to have game-breaking wide receiver DeSean Jackson under his tutoring wing when he was offensive coordinator with the Washington Reskins last year. McVay, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins for a couple of seasons, won’t have Jackson or that kind of blistering, downfield speed on his Rams roster, at least for this season.
What he does have are some pretty good, possession-type wideouts, more than capable enough to shake and bake their way past defenders and get into the endzone. For the past four seasons, before joining the Rams this year, former USC star Robert Woods have proven to be a solid pass-catcher in the NFL with 203 receptions, while averaging 12 yards per catch.
Fifth-year man Tavon Austin is just as competent with 12 touchdowns and 181 catches. Second-year player Pharoh Cooper have the potential to be something more than just a complimentary piece. The rest of the Rams’ wide receiving crew are still wide-eyed rookies, like South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett, or players with minimal experience.
In comparison, McVay had Jackson, the lightning bolt, home-run hitter, as part of the Redskins offensive arsenal. Jackson, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, caught 56 balls for 1,005 yards, averaging 17.9 yards per catch for the Redskins last season. As a result, Washington ranked third in total offense, put up 24 points and 297 yards through the air last season.
“DeSean (Jackson) offers a unique opportunity to be able to stretch the ball down the field with balls that travel a little bit further, but we’re continuing to find out with our players what’s the best way to attack defenses and we’ve got some good players,” said McVay. “How that all comes together by the time we face Indy (Indianapolis Colts), it’ll be exciting to see what it is.”
Having a talent like Jackson certainly made McVay’s job as offensive coordinator easier. McVay has a much different challenge with the Rams and raising the team’s production up from 2016. The Rams averaged 14 points and accounted for 2,951 passing yards last year.
“Well, anytime you’ve got a great vertical threat like him – he’s arguably one of the best of all-time at making plays down the field,” McVay said. “He’s a guy that has consistently delivered when you know he’s going deep and anytime you can go one play 80 yards, that always is a lot easier as a play caller and as an offense.”
The passing game is an area that the Rams are looking to fix. The productivity of the team’s offense and passing game, in particular, screams of improvements to be made.
When you end the 2016 NFL season as the 31st passing offense out of 32 teams, that mandate is not really optional if the Rams hope to contend for the crown in the NFC West division.
This is where the Rams turn to McVay. McVay was the guiding force behind Kirk Cousins and the Redskins finding their way to the No. 2 passing offense in the league last season. Having this type of success helped land McVay the head coaching job with the Rams.
Now the ultra-talented offensive whiz has a young triggerman at the quarterback position in Jared Goff, a downfield, punishing runner in Todd Gurley, and a buffet of wide receivers looking to upgrade their level of play.
“We’ve got some guys that we feel good about their ability to stretch the top shelf of the coverage,” McVay said. “It’s been unfortunate for (WR) Tavon (Austin) that we haven’t had an opportunity to really practice with him too much just because he’s got the wrist injury and then he ends up getting the hamstring, so I know he’s anxious to get out there and we’ll see if he can do some of those things when he gets back out for us.”
Another player McVay seems to be high on to be a difference-maker this season is Cooper.
“I think Pharoh (Cooper) is a great competitor,” said McVay. “I think what Pharoh Cooper’s doing is continuing to get more comfortable playing the receiver position as a whole. This guy is just a very good athlete that’s continuing to become a better receiver each and every day. A tough, physical player, competes well in the run game and I think you see the play that he makes down in the red zone yesterday – he’s aggressively running through the football, he’s kind of a fearless mindset and mentality.”