It’s head down and grind for these Rams re­ceivers

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

Late in the first half of last week’s game at Seat­tle, Rams re­ceiver Brandin Cooks lay prone on the turf at Cen­tu­ryLink Field af­ter catch­ing a pass and ab­sorb­ing a vi­o­lent hit. A few plays later, re­ceiver Cooper Kupp’s head hit the turf af­ter he caught a short pass.

Both play­ers sat out the rest of the game be­cause of con­cus­sions. But Fri­day, af­ter fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in prac­tice for the first time this week, Cooks and Kupp each pro­nounced him­self fit.

If they are cleared in the fi­nal stage of the NFL’s con­cus­sion pro­to­col Satur­day, they are ex­pected to join Robert Woods in the start­ing lineup Sun­day at Bron­cos Sta­dium at Mile High.

“Feel amaz­ing,” Cooks said.

The re­turn of Cooks and Kupp would en­er­gize a Rams of­fense that is av­er­ag­ing nearly 35 points and has helped make the Rams the NFC’s only un­beaten team.

Kupp has 30 re­cep­tions, five for touch­downs. Cooks has 26 catches, one for a touch­down.

Cooks was in­jured af­ter he caught an 18-yard pass and Seahawks safety Tedric Thomp­son crashed into him with a high hit. Kupp was in­jured af­ter catch­ing an 11yard pass. When the Rams went to the locker room dur-

ing half­time, he told train­ers he did not feel like him­self.

For NFL play­ers, that is not an easy de­ci­sion.

“You never want to let the guys down, which is the bat­tle you go through,” Kupp said. “I’ve got a fam­ily at home, and I want to make sure that when I step onto that field, I’m the best that I can be.”

Cooks’ and Kupp’s ab­sences, how­ever, pro­vided the Rams an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop depth. Sec­ond-year re­ceiver Josh Reynolds and rookie KhaDarel Hodge each pro­duced big plays in the 33-31 vic­tory that lifted the Rams to 5-0.

“Proud of both of them for step­ping up,” Jared Goff said af­ter the game.

Reynolds’ and Hodge’s clutch per­for­mances were im­por­tant for a re­ceiver corps that al­ready was thinned be­cause of in­juries. Pharoh Cooper (an­kle) and Mike Thomas (groin) have been on in­jured re­serve since suf­fer­ing in­juries dur­ing Week 1 at Oak­land.

“Stepped in seam­lessly,” Kupp said of Reynolds and Hodge. “There’s some depth here, and guys that can re­ally play well.”

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Reynolds has been slowed by in­juries since the Rams se­lected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft from Texas A&M. But he has had mo­ments.

Dur­ing a 2017 train­ing camp prac­tice, Reynolds’ first af­ter be­ing side­lined be­cause of a quadri­ceps in­jury, he put on an ac­ro­batic show. In Week 12, Reynolds played in place of an in­jured Woods and caught a touch­down pass against New Or­leans.

So “Big Smooth,” as re­ceivers coach Eric Yar­ber calls him, did not blink when Cooks went down and Yar­ber sent him onto the field.

Yar­ber and as­sis­tant re­ceivers coach Liam Coen coun­seled Reynolds and Hodge at half­time, and coach Sean McVay also talked to them.

“He was just like, ‘You’re here for a rea­son. Play in the game plan and it will come to you,’” Hodge said. “It kind of set­tled me down.

“I wasn’t re­ally ner­vous, but I was anx­ious. So just hear­ing from the head coach, the head man, to just play gives you con­fi­dence.”

Early in the third quar­ter, Reynolds caught a 22-yard pass for a first down. On the next play, Goff found him for 17 yards and an­other first down. On the next play, McVay called for a fly sweep, and Reynolds ran 10 yards for an­other first down.

“I def­i­nitely had not done that in the league,” Reynolds, laugh­ing, said of tak­ing a hand­off. “It was fun to be able to get the ball in my hands and be a run­ning back.”

Todd Gur­ley also en­joyed the se­quence.

“He makes a great play, then he makes an­other great play and then he gets the sweep and then … the next play he’s in there try­ing to block for me,” Gur­ley said. “I kind of just chuck­led and was like, ‘Yeah, we’re go­ing to be fine.’ ”

The 6-2, 205-pound Hodge made his mark in the fourth quar­ter, when he hauled in a 14-yard pass for a first down.

The catch kept alive a drive that pro­duced what turned out to be the gamewin­ning field goal.

It was the lat­est mile­stone for the un­drafted free agent from Prairie View A&M, who im­pressed dur­ing pre­sea­son games and ini­tially made the prac­tice squad. Hodge was added to the ros­ter in Week 3.

He is a player whom McVay fre­quently calls upon with ques­tions when the of­fense meets dur­ing the week.

“He pops off with the an­swer right away,” Yar­ber said. “He re­sponds with no hes­i­ta­tion.”

Reynolds and Hodge both fit the pro­file for re­ceivers in McVay’s con­cept­based of­fense.

“You want those smart guys,” Yar­ber said. “They don’t see the small pic­ture — they see the big-screen pic­ture and they know what ev­ery­body’s do­ing and how they fit into that route and that con­cept.

“If you can’t do that, you won’t be here.”

Reynolds and Hodge pre­pared this week as if they were go­ing to start. They will be ready if called upon and team­mates are confident they will get the job done.

“When their op­por­tu­nity came, they stepped up and de­liv­ered,” Gur­ley said. “That’s what you love about this team.”

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

BRANDIN COOKS, right, got a con­cus­sion on a hit by Tedric Thomp­son last week. Cooks and Cooper Kupp, who also was con­cussed, ex­pect to play Sun­day.

Charg­ers at Cleve­land AT FIRSTEN­ERGY STA­DIUM Sun­day, 10 a.m., Chan­nel 2Col­lege re­u­nion: Charg­ers re­ceiver and Browns cor­ner­back have a his­tory. D7

Rams at Den­ver AT BRON­COS STA­DIUM AT MILE HIGH Sun­day, 1 p.m., Chan­nel 11

Stephen Bras­hear Getty Im­ages

COOPER KUPP had six catches for 90 yards and a score in the first half at Seat­tle be­fore he was in­jured.

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