Rams’ Sean McVay finds an assistant who ‘might be sicker than I am’

NFL

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — More than a month removed from a 9-7 season that didn’t include the playoffs, Sean McVay expressed optimism Wednesday about the Los Angeles Rams‘ future as he introduced three new coaches — defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and special teams coordinator John Bonamego — to his staff.

“I’m excited and motivated and really — I would say more rejuvenated and reinvigorated than I’ve ever been since I first got here,” said McVay, who is preparing for his fourth season as head coach. “That’s a reflection of these men.”

The Rams also on Wednesday announced the addition of running backs coach Thomas Brown to replace Skip Peete, who was not retained following the season.

Staley replaces veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose contract was not renewed after three seasons. When asked, McVay did not provide specific reasons for his decision to move on from the 72-year-old Phillips, but instead pivoted to Staley’s attributes.

The 37-year-old Staley is a first time NFL defensive coordinator who spent the last three seasons coaching outside linebackers under defensive guru Vic Fangio.

“When you talk football, I’d like to think that I love football as much as anybody, you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, ‘This guy might be sicker than I am,'” McVay said, chuckling.

Staley inherits a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency last season, but is expected to undergo significant changes as standout outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Cory Littleton and defensive lineman Michael Brockers enter free agency next month.

“Structurally, our systems — from a personnel standpoint — there will be a lot of carryover,” said Staley, who will continue to utilize a 3-4 scheme. “I think that’s going to be a comforting thing for our players is they’re going to be performing a lot of the same jobs, a lot of the same roles … maybe schematically, situationally, technically, there may be some nuances, but it will be different.”

O’Connell fills a role that was vacant the last two years after Matt LaFleur departed following the 2017 season to become the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, where he could call plays. A season later LeFleur was named head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Like LaFleur, O’Connell will not call plays with the Rams, but will be instrumental in weekly game planning as well as coaching quarterback Jared Goff — who has had four previous quarterback coaches since he was drafted in 2016.

“His ability to communicate, his big picture, I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for Jared to work with someone like him,” McVay said about O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback who last season served as the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator.

“The experience and the success that this offense has had, you really want the players to look at you as an extension of the head coach,” said O’Connell, who turns 35 in May.

Bonamego replaces long-time Rams assistant John Fassell, who unexpectedly departed to take the same position with the Dallas Cowboys. Bonamego served as the special teams coordinator last season for the Detroit Lions, but was among several Lions assistants who were fired following the season.

With the Rams, Bonamego, 56, inherits a group that includes punter Johnny Hekker, long snapper Jake McQuaide and kicker Greg Zuerlein — though Zuerlein is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

“He’s got innovative things to be able to implement,” McVay said. “He’s got an ownership on situational football — which in a lot of instances, especially for the head coach, you rely on your special teams coordinator.”

McVay downplayed the amount of turnover on the Rams’ staff, which also includes the departure of strength coach Ted Rath and assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

“I think it can be a good thing,” McVay said, “Where you bring in some fresh new perspectives.”

When asked if he now, entering his fourth season and no longer considered an inexperienced coach, feels in total control of his staff following the departure of Phillips and Fassel, McVay shook his head.

“I would never look at it like that,” McVay said. “I think that you felt fortunate to have two great leaders like that in place and now I’m looking at three great leaders in addition to the other guys that have already been in place.”

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