He is preparing for his 13th NFL season, but for Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford it qualifies as a new start.
The Rams were on the field Monday for full-team drills as Phase III of the offseason program began. Reporters were not allowed at the workout, but Stafford said afterward that for him, like rookies, “We’re all in the same boat” as they attempt to absorb and execute coach Sean McVay’s offense.
“Just trying to learn this thing as fast we possibly can and make it second nature as soon as possible,” Stafford said during a videoconference.
The Rams traded for Stafford with the aim of elevating the offense to a level not achieved since the 2018 season, when McVay’s high-powered scheme helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl.
After a divisional-round playoff defeat in January, the Rams sent quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions because McVay saw the 33-year-old Stafford as a significant upgrade, a player capable of helping the Rams win Super Bowl LVI, which will be played Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
Stafford had offseason surgery on his right thumb in March. He described it Monday as “just a little quick fix” and said, “I haven’t really been limited at all” during workouts. He said he was enjoying working with a Rams receiver corps that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and DeSean Jackson.
“I have a ton of respect for all of them — the way they play the game, the knowledge that they have, the effort that they play with,” he said. “So, I’m excited.”
Stafford will not force the issue of establishing himself as a leader. The process, he said, will occur “organically” as he gets to know teammates.
“That can’t happen in one trip around the locker room,” he said. “So, it takes some time to figure out what makes guys tick. … The biggest thing is just be myself, let those things happen and understand there’s been a high standard here of success, and really quarterback play as well, so I’ve got to come in here and do my part.”
Stafford is already making an impression on teammates.
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd recalled video of a game in which Stafford suffered an injury but came back to lead the Lions to victory. Stafford is “a natural leader,” Floyd said.
“You can tell guys are buying into what he’s doing already,” Floyd said.
Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL mandated that offseason programs be conducted virtually. This year, players for many teams, including the Rams, stated publicly that they would not participate in on-field activities. They are among teams that are conducting a hybrid version of organized team activities that includes limited on-field work.
“Selfishly, I’m liking these times because it’s giving me the chance to be on the field and calling plays and going against our defense a little bit in some jog-through-type scenarios, nothing full speed,” Stafford said.
Even at a slower pace, Stafford said the “mental reps” that enable him to learn new terminology have been valuable. So is the opportunity to take what he has seen on video and establish real timing with receivers.
“You can definitely look at it on a screen, look at it on a piece of paper and take your notes but until you get out there and watch Cooper Kupp run this route, or Robert Woods run that route or whatever it is, that’s things that I think take time and in-person repetition,” he said.
McVay and Stafford have discussed ways in which the Rams can benefit from the veteran’s experience. During his 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford played under four offensive coordinators.
McVay is expected to blend Stafford’s strengths into the Rams offense.
“There’s things I’ve done in the past that I think make sense to him and make sense for our offense,” Stafford said. “There’s also things that I’ve never been exposed to that are in this offense that I’m trying to learn and make second nature to myself as well.
“So, it’s been fun. We’ve been able to kind of bounce ideas back and forth off of each other, and we’ll figure out what this thing looks like come August, September.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.