EARTH CITY, Mo. — Todd Gurley wasn’t able to do much Tuesday to thrill St. Louis Rams fans who are itching to see just what the No. 10 back in the draft can accomplish.
The Rams engaged in their first full-team full-pads practice of the summer, and all Gurley could do — shackled by the trainers and coaches — was sit, watch and try as best he could to absorb before he gets his chance.
For Gurley, he can’t wait to unleash the skill set that made him one of the more feared runner in college football in recent years, but the ACL injury he suffered last November against Auburn has kept his action limited since joining the Rams.
Speaking in soft tones and displaying the same patience as a young man as he showed in college as a runner, Gurley gave a little personality preview for what’s in store once he’s cleared fully to go.
“I’m different with the pads on. I’m definitely different, personality-wise,” Gurley told Shutdown Corner. “In the locker room, it’s even different. I’m relaxed, man. A lot of people don’t get to see you, all of you. I have those two sides. I can be laid back. But once I come out here [on the field], pads on, I get that little …
“… that vibe.”
The vibe is a two-headed thing. On one side, it’s the vibrant personality that was on display as Gurley went through individual drills and walkthroughs while wearing a GoPro helmet camera.
Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, one of the longest-tenured Rams on offense, said he loves Gurley the player and appreciates his energy during the rookie’s limited time on the field. But still: “Oh, he’s got personality,” Saffold said with a smile, “but sometimes you have to shut him up.”
On the other side, the vibe also is Gurley’s blend of power and speed on the field. It’s his ability to churn through contact — nearly two-thirds of his rushing yards injury- and suspension-shortened 2014 season at Georgia came after contact. It’s Gurley’s vision and decisiveness. It’s his head-on approach to taking on safeties and linebackers and not going out of bounds by choice.
And it’s all why the Rams spent the 10th pick in the draft on him as a perfect element to Jeff Fisher’s goal of simplifying the Rams’ offense and establishing a ground-and-pound identity. In a strange swap, Gurley arrived in St. Louis right as former Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (and his verbose, complex scheme) left to run the offense at UGA.
New Rams coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. will carry out Fisher’s goal of streamlining things and leaning on the power of the run game. But Gurley’s arrival hasn’t been without a bit of awkwardness. Tre Mason was a second-round pick of the Rams in 2014 and appeared to have his arrow pointed up after a slow rookie start turned into a solid finish.
When the Rams drafted Gurley, Mason tweeted a one-word reaction: “Yikes,” which he since has taken down. But when Mason met with the media on Monday, he had an odd response when asked about the competition at running back, per ESPN.com:
“I feel like he’s my teammate now and if you guys need information on Todd Gurley you should ask Todd Gurley,” Mason said. “That’s how I feel.”
For Gurley, he’s not trying to smooth things over between the two former SEC standouts who now find themselves in the same backfield, fighting to eat at the main ballcarrier.
“At the end of the day, we are all family and brothers and teammates,” Gurley said. “Right now, it’s Tre’s job. When I come back, I’ll try to compete for that job. He understands that, and I understand he’s going to fight to keep it. It’s no different at any other level I’ve been at.”
A rookie has led the Rams in rushing each of the past two seasons, with Zac Stacy leading the way in 2013 and Mason in 2014 — and Gurley should have the chance to be No. 3 on that list this season once he’s cleared. As for a timetable, well, there is none. Fisher is taking things slowly, and Gurley understands the big picture, because he knows he can wait to get his franchise back on the field.
“This is going to be a process,” Fisher said. “It’s not going to be a day-to-day thing. We’re looking at this as a long-term now. When I say long term, I mean let’s just go week to week and go through the preseason and we’ll see where we are when the season starts. He’s not had any setbacks.
“He’s getting walkthrough reps. He’s participating in all the meetings, and he’s doing fine. If we made it his choice, he’d be out there right now. To a certain extent, we have to hold him back just to protect him.”
And does Gurley need preseason reps to be considered full go for Week 1? Fisher seemed to contradict himself with the answer.
“Preseason game reps? There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I can’t say whether he’s going to get preseason snaps. But he’s making progress. As we talked about a few days ago, our decision not to PUP him at the start of camp was to get him individual reps and build his reps on the practice field.
“In his case as a running back, practice reps will suffice. But it’s the number of reps and where he is when we make the decision when to play him.”
This is where Gurley is placing his trust in the decision makers’ hands.
“It’s just been cool being out here. It’s just a little something. It’s still an opportunity. I can still accomplish things,” Gurley said. “We have good coaches and trainers, so I have no reason not to trust them. They have their interests, and I have mine, but they’ll get me out there when the time is right. There’s no reason to rush, and I am realizing that.”
And as for when “the vibe” becomes reality again on the field, Gurley admits to looking ahead to that first run — and the first pop of pads that no doubt will come with it. Right now, it’s an empty canvas.
“I don’t know. Hopefully, that first [run] is a good one,” Gurley said. “I’ve thought about getting it, but right now it’s like a blank space. I just want to fill it — fill that space with something special.”