As Rams’ Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp healthier, Stetson Bennett turns heads at minicamp

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 13: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 talks to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp #10 during a mini-camp at California Lutheran University on June 13, 2023 in Thousand Oaks, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Quarterback Matthew Stafford (left) and wide receiver Cooper Kupp are both looking to recover from injuries in the 2023 season. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams missed this week’s mandatory two-day minicamp with an excused absence for personal family reasons. The other two big stars of the Rams, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, were present at the team’s training facility at California Lutheran University. More importantly for the Rams, they were active participants, something we hadn’t seen from the Super Bowl-winning duo in a while.

This season, Stafford will return to the field after missing the last half of the 2022 season with a neck injury. Kupp returns after missing the final six weeks of the season with a sprained ankle.

In minicamp, which ended Wednesday, Stafford seemed to throw well during red-zone work, and Kupp had an increased workload.

“I feel pretty good [physically]. It’s good [to be back], I love being here, being able to train and compete and play with these guys,” Stafford said. “It’s hard to sit on the sidelines like I did last year for so long and not be able to get any kind of reps. So it’s great to have a bunch of reps this offseason, and I feel good and excited to come back in July.

The Rams’ new additions in free agency have also made progress. Specifically, third-year wide receiver Tyler Johnson who signed in May and 2020 Super Bowl champion Demarcus Robinson who signed with the Rams on June 8.

Head coach Sean McVay has praised the new players and seen their solid development and performance this offseason and now feels more comfortable with his wide receiver corps, a group that has been beaten by injuries last year.

“[Tyler] is a guy that you can see is getting more comfortable, the game makes sense for him,” McVay said. “He has good aggressive hands and he has a great ability to work the edges. Demarcus is a guy who had a lot of production with Kansas City and did a great job in Baltimore. Both of these guys have played in games and it’s nice to be able to get some of that depth.

Another notable player returning from injury is wide receiver Van Jefferson, who missed most of the 2022 season after a pair of knee surgeries. Kupp and Jefferson were still slowly getting back up to competitive speed this week, but McVay says they’ll be ready to head out for training camp in July.

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 13: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett #13 looks on during mini-camp at California Lutheran University on June 13, 2023 in Thousand Oaks, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The Rams used a fourth-round draft pick against back-to-back national champion Stetson Bennett of Georgia. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Rookie stars include Stetson Bennett

McVay also praised the 2023 rookie class, who he said were productive and professional at camp this week.

“I was very pleased with the [rookie] class in general. When you look at the attacking side of the ball, Puka Nacua is a guy who stood out. I was really happy with Steve Avila, he’s incredibly talented and gifted but we were able to move him from the left [side of the offensive line] to the right, and he picks things up quickly. Mike McAllister played a lot of snaps up front and he was able to move around.

“Defensively Kobie Turner has done an amazing job, I’ve been impressed with his professionalism, he shines, he’s relentless and he’s just able to understand the nuances of what we’re asking of him.”

Back-to-back national champion and fourth-round draft pick Stetson Bennett is also turning heads, if the minicamp’s praise can be taken at face value. His athleticism did not go unnoticed at camp, and Stafford and Kupp, as well as McVay, praised the former Georgia Bulldog star.

“I’m really happy with him,” McVay said. “The one thing that stands out is that when the ball is in Stetson’s hands, the game makes sense for him. He has a good sense of being able to progress quickly. He can feel space at the back as far as different coverage counters he’s seen but he feels open areas and goes through things quickly I like athletics but there’s a lot of work to be done He stays nice and steady, doesn’t climb not too high or low, and it’s fun to be around.”

“He did a great job,” Stafford said. “While it’s a lot for a young man to process and a lot to learn, he’s done a great job. He has great athleticism, throws the ball well and does a lot of things very well. I’m happy for him.”

Kupp noted that Stetson made a few “high-profile throws” in practice.

The 2021 Super Bowl champions are looking to bounce back from a 5-12 season, and it’s safe to say that expectations aren’t as high as they have been in previous years.

“I don’t pay too much attention to [the expectations]”, Stafford said. “I know what we’re trying to build is a really good football team and that takes work. Whether people think it’s going to happen, we don’t care. Just because people said we should win the Super Bowl two years ago doesn’t mean we won [because of that]. We put the work in place, we executed. That’s the mindset we have and we’re happy to be there.

The Rams get the next few weeks off before returning to training camp July 25 in Irvine. At the start of training camp, you can expect to see Donald back, as well as Kupp at full speed. The Rams also have joint workouts scheduled with the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders scheduled around this time.

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