Rams GM: Gur­ley wasn’t same this year

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By GREG BEACHAM

THOU­SAND OAKS — Although Todd Gur­ley’s dis­mal sea­son will loom over the Los An­ge­les Rams all win­ter, gen­eral man­ager Les Snead be­lieves his fran­chise run­ning back can re­turn to great­ness.

Snead ex­pressed con­fi­dence Tues­day in the player he signed to a $60 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion through 2023, even while ac­knowl­edg­ing Gur­ley “wasn’t” the same run­ning back this sea­son, at least sta­tis­ti­cally.

“I think we’ve seen play­ers have years that were less than the past come back and ac­tu­ally get back to where they were,” Snead said. “He’s still a young foot­ball player. ... If you did take a step back this year, in terms of stats, I do think you can see play­ers who do come back and get to a higher level than they were in their down years.”

Although Snead made it clear that the re­spon­si­bil­ity must be shared among sev­eral cul­prits, there’s no doubt Gur­ley took a dra­matic step back­ward this sea­son, both in the fran­chise run­ning back’s role in coach Sean McVay’s of­fense and in his ef­fec­tive­ness when he got chances to con­trib­ute.

Gur­ley had a ca­reer-worst 857 yards rush­ing on a ca­reer-low 223 car­ries, and his

207 yards re­ceiv­ing on 31 catches were his fewest since his rookie cam­paign in St. Louis.

The Rams’ en­tire run­ning game slumped to 26th in the NFL with 93.7 yards per game. McVay and Gur­ley had the eighth-best rush­ing of­fense with 122.1 yards per game in McVay’s de­but sea­son in 2017, and they spiked to third in the NFL last year with 139.4 yards per game.

Gur­ley missed only one game to in­jury this sea­son, but McVay in­ex­pli­ca­bly used him spar­ingly. The Rams spent all sea­son in­sist­ing they weren’t prac­tic­ing load man­age­ment with the back who has strug­gled with pre­vi­ous knee prob­lems, and he largely stayed healthy this year.

But even when Gur­ley did get op­por­tu­ni­ties to play ex­ten­sively, he didn’t ap­pear to be as ef­fec­tive, par­tic­u­larly on long runs. While he still doled out pun­ish­ment to po­ten­tial tack­lers with his phys­i­cal style, he didn’t have a 100yard rush­ing game all sea­son long, and he broke just five runs longer than 20 yards — none longer than 40 yards.

Snead said Gur­ley has ex­pressed no dis­ap­point­ment to the Rams about his di­min­ished role in 2019. Gur­ley re­peat­edly said the same in pub­lic, even cu­ri­ously in­sist­ing that his long­time backup, Mal­colm Brown, could play just as ef­fec­tively as the starter who is guar­an­teed $45 mil­lion in his new con­tract.

“I can see where you go, from an an­a­lyt­i­cal stand­point, ‘OK, maybe you give him a con­tract and he didn’t have as good a sta­tis­ti­cal year,’” Snead said. “I do be­lieve we be­lieve you can’t nec­es­sar­ily (act like a) CEO and lead from just a spread­sheet. That’s prob­a­bly the age of Mad­den foot­ball, and you can move peo­ple in fan­tasy. Those are hu­man be­ings that gave a lot to this or­ga­ni­za­tion and de­serve to be com­pen­sated.”

In­deed, Snead doesn’t be­lieve the blame rests solely on Gur­ley, or even on McVay. The GM ac­knowl­edged his of­fen­sive line didn’t play as well for Gur­ley this sea­son, and he heads into the off­sea­son hop­ing to make up­grades — no small task given the Rams’ salary cap sit­u­a­tion af­ter hand­ing out mammoth ex­ten­sions to Gur­ley, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks and Aaron Don­ald in the past two years.

“I think we’re eval­u­at­ing more im­prov­ing the run game,” Snead said. “It’s prob­a­bly bor­ing, but that’s a col­lec­tive thing. All re­ally good run­ning backs prob­a­bly give their of­fen­sive line­men nice gifts af­ter Christ­mas af­ter a suc­cess­ful year, and I think that’s for a rea­son. I think we all know that. We’ve got to look at of­fen­sive line­men and run­ners and tight ends and how we’re run­ning the foot­ball, in­stead of just one in­di­vid­ual.”

NOTES: DT Michael Brock­ers has a high an­kle sprain from Sun­day’s win over Ari­zona. The eight-year Rams vet­eran won’t need surgery as he heads into un­re­stricted free agency . ... Snead of­fered no timetable for agree­ing to a con­tract ex­ten­sion with Pro Bowl CB Jalen Ram­sey, whose ar­rival cost the Rams their next two first-round draft picks. Snead doesn’t an­tic­i­pate a hold­out from the mer­cu­rial de­fen­sive back, who has ap­peared to fit in well with his new team. ... Snead knows LT An­drew Whit­worth would like to re­turn, but he plans to eval­u­ate all of the Rams’ free agents and his team’s needs be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.

KEVIN REECE Spe­cial to the Val­ley Press

GET­TING AWAY Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley (30) runs away from the Car­di­nals’ Jor­dan Hicks dur­ing Sun­day’s game in Los An­ge­les. Rams GM Les Snead said he thinks Gur­ley can be bet­ter.

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