A few days ago, commissioner Roger Goodell penned a letter addressed to fans, announcing that NFL training camps are now opening. With that being said, it’s time for the Last Word On Pro Football team to discuss each team’s faces of the franchise. In this installment, we look at one of the more interesting and misunderstood teams of the coming year: the three faces of the Los Angeles Rams.
There is certainly more than what meets the eye with this team, despite the majority of experts all but writing them off for post-season play. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to what has been a bit of a chaotic spell in Los Angeles. The team itself has gone through a rather abrupt off-season change of identity, at least on its altered surface. Quarterback Jared Goff took point in 2019 as one of three “Most Recognizable Faces” on the Rams in last year’s series. Is that still the case?
Faces of the Franchise: 2020 Los Angeles Rams
Well, of course. This catches no one by surprise — even fans of other teams. We are, after all, witnessing a unanimous Hall of Famer way before any debate has a chance to begin.
Don’t waste your time presenting stat comparisons to current or past players like Khalil Mack, Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. What you see with the naked eye is the most disruptive defensive lineman to ever play the pro game. Stats on paper do not reveal what the coaches already know and game plan against. Simply put, putting one man in his path to block him endangers your quarterback or running back. Donald attracts two- and three-man blocking more than any player in the league.
Still, what makes him the face of the franchise is not his play alone but his unmatched work ethic. His desire to be great and improve annually despite all success and rewards is now legendary. The perfect example of hard work paying off — his mantra, by the way — is how he came into the NFL as the lesser known, much lesser hyped defensive lineman behind Jadeveon Clowney. Donald was the fifth defensive player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft (third defensive lineman, behind Clowney and Mack). Heading into 2020, the number totals read: Clowney (32 sacks, 71 tackles for loss, 80 quarterback hits), Mack (61.5 sacks, 86 tackles for loss, 116 quarterback hits), Donald (72 sacks, 117 tackles for loss, 173 quarterback hits). What’s more, Donald has more quarterback hits than Clowney has total solo tackles (173 to 172).
Donald, who is also a dedicated family man, has been the absolute constant through the entire post-Fisher metamorphosis.
Whitworth can also be called a team constant but his on-field play suffered a noticeable downturn in 2019. He appeared to get called for holding more than usual and it’s feared this will continue. However, Whitworth is a highly-needed presence and an irreplaceable part of a unit filled with youthful inexperience.
The team, the franchise, and the fans need his soothing demeanor, especially now that the Rams no longer have the ultra-cool Todd Gurley to draw from in press conferences. Big Whit’s leadership skills and wisdom, representing what too often has the look and feel of a high-powered reality show (at least in front office dealings and in their relationship with their fans), is paramount for team and line cohesiveness.
We will probably will not get to see enough of what Whitworth brings to the stabilization of team surroundings in the upcoming HBO series, Hard Knocks, which is set to air in two weeks.
Honestly, Jared Goff almost didn’t make the top three faces of the franchise this year, but something is happening on the way to the coming season. The year 2020 is happening.
In 2019, Goff’s production may have dipped but he is not to be blamed entirely. The offensive line play and Gurley’s condition were a couple of the factors that contributed. Even Sean McVay will tell you he could have coached much better at times in critical in-game situations. Goff is also, like it or not, extremely limited in terms of mobility and should not be expected to resemble his division counterpart, Russell Wilson. Additionally, McVay is coming up in a time when football is distancing from coaches he learned from. Would Andy Reid know enough to draft and turn Patrick Mahomes loose during his first three seasons coaching?
Behind a solid offensive line and within the evolving offensive system put in place, Goff is an upper-level passer. He should return as one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL.
That’s fine and dandy, but what solidifies him as one of three faces of this franchise is the state of the country in 2020.
Back in early June when the Rams held an important Zoom conference team meeting to discuss feelings and ongoing issues inspired by the then-latest injustice to hit center stage nationally (the killing of George Floyd by police officers), Goff stepped up. Gaining new understanding and learning more about himself, he now wants to be among the leaders of social change. As a white person and a quarterback, he felt the obligation to speak up and become part of such change. To be this courageous for someone in his position is difficult and almost always a double-edged sword. It will undoubtedly thrust him back under a larger franchise spotlight.
Honorable Mention: Robert Woods
Robert Woods, the player who nearly unseated Goff as one of the faces of the Los Angeles Rams, is now the stand-alone veteran receiver in a very talented young crop of pass catchers. Like Whitworth, he is the voice of reason and maturity within his unit and throughout the team. With Brandin Cooks now elsewhere, teammates can focus on Woods as the catalyst in the coming season’s offensive scheme. The scheme figures to be increasingly more precise and efficient, and a bit less about needing to stretch defenses. More of the same success can be expected from Woods both in his game and his leadership role.
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