Friday, January 27 2023

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

IRVINE, Calif. — A line of enthusiastic fans wrapped around the training-camp facility for the Los Angeles Rams at the University of California-Irvine. 

That buzz continued inside at practice. An adoring fan of this Super Bowl-winning team screamed out to coach Sean McVay over the droning bass of piped-in music. McVay, around 100 yards away, turned and waved.

“Hey, he heard me!” the surprised fan said, drawing a chuckle from the group around him. 

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With reminders of a championship season all around them, McVay must convince his team that the storybook season ending in his first Super Bowl is firmly in the rearview mirror, focusing only on how to repeat as Super Bowl champs. 

“It’s a brand-new year,” McVay said at his opening press conference for training camp. “We won it last year, but everybody is undefeated now. So, we are just going to take the right steps one day at a time. 

“You embrace the opportunity to be somebody that people care about covering. That is a thing we always enjoy. We talk about it all the time, pressure is a privilege, but I think we got the right kind of guys that have the humility and understand that that confidence is earned every single day by the way they work.”

The rest of the Rams are following McVay’s directive of moving on from last year’s title run, including defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and defensive back David Long Jr. 

The last time a team repeated as Super Bowl champs was the New England Patriots (2003-2004) Six other franchises have accomplished that feat during the Super Bowl era. They include the Green Bay Packers (1966-67), Miami Dolphins (1972-73), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-75, 1978-79), the San Francisco 49ers (1988-89), the Dallas Cowboys (1992-93) and the Denver Broncos (1997-98).

To hear McVay describe it, the Rams need the Neuralyzer flashing light from “Men in Black” to erase the memories from last year, so that his team’s focus does not linger on that magical season.

“The head coach set the tone on that really early,” Morris said. “I know a lot of guys are saying ‘Hashtag, run it back’ and all that other stuff, but realistically for us, it was really turning the page. When I got here last year, there was a lot of high expectations, and you all asked me if we were going to be the No. 1 defense, and I wasn’t really interested in that. I’m more interested in finding ways to win as a team.”

Added Long, “We’re trying to rebuild a new season. It’s going to look different. We have different guys here, so it’s just putting everything back together. We completely wiped the slate after the ring ceremony. Everybody’s just thinking about a new year, and to go try and win another championship.” 

Long went on to say this year’s team will have a different set of adversities to overcome this year; they are already dealing with some in training camp.

The health of quarterback Matthew Stafford sits at the top of that list. After signing a $160 million contract extension this offseason, the 34-year-old QB received an injection for a fatigued right arm and did not throw during organized team activities.

Stafford has been on a pitch count during training camp because of the lingering elbow issue. 

“We have five weeks until Sept. 8,” McVay said. “He’s stilling a little pain. He could push through it. He’s been throwing and competing in team settings, but we felt like the smart thing was, let’s take it a week at a time.” 

McVay elaborated that the team just wanted to be extra cautious with the player manning the most important position on the field, making sure Stafford starts the regular season as healthy as possible. 

Receiver Van Jefferson had surgery on his knee that will require the Florida product to miss time during training camp and could affect his availability during the regular season. So, with Robert Woods traded to the Tennessee Titans and no Odell Beckham signing (yet), receiver depth is an issue. 

The Rams are still figuring out how to replace the production and leadership of Von Miller, who signed a more lucrative deal with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. Los Angeles also must sort out a reshuffled offensive line, with left tackle Andrew Whitworth retiring and right guard Austin Corbett signing with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.

But the always-positive McVay seems up for the challenge. With a new contract in the works, McVay’s job is to keep his team focused on the little things during training camp that will lead them to the bigger goals like playoff wins and ultimately a chance to win another Super Bowl. 

“So many things have to go right,” McVay told reporters, when asked about repeating. “We can be a better team this year, and I think we’ve got a chance to do that, and it might not mean we win a Super Bowl because there are a lot of things that take place throughout the course of a game where a bounce of a ball here or, you know, certain things that are out of your control. …

“We are worried about stacking blocks the right way so that we can peak on September 8 and then be ready to adapt or adjust accordingly as we navigate the 17 games in the regular season.” 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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