Los Angeles Times
SUMMER JOB COULD LEAD TO BETTER GIG
Speedy receiver Atwell out to show he belongs in Rams corps
He built his NFL draft resume with speed, toughness and elusiveness. Those qualities caught the eye of the Rams and helped diminutive Tutu Atwell became a surprising second-round draft pick last year.
But in the wake of a disappointing and injury-marred rookie season, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Atwell used his phone to make what might turn out to be the most important move of his young career.
After the Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium, Atwell texted star receiver Cooper Kupp.
The message was simple. And direct.
“I want to be great,” Atwell said.
“‘Whatever it takes to make you better, I’m there,’ ” Atwell said.
Atwell spent much of this offseason working on the field, in the weight room and the meeting room with Kupp, the NFL’s reigning offensive player of the year.
“He would be the first to tell you last year wasn’t what he wanted his rookie season to be,” Kupp said. “He’s excited about being able to come out here and do some good things in Year 2 and just let it all hang out.”
During organized-team ac
tivity workouts, Atwell drew praise in comments to reporters from coach Sean McVay, who last season questioned Atwell’s sense of urgency.
Atwell will get another chance to demonstrate the product of his newfound commitment when the Rams begin training camp at UC Irvine on Saturday.
At that time, Atwell will attempt to show McVay that he should be part of a receiver rotation that will include Kupp, new addition Allen Robinson, third-year pro Van Jefferson and second-year pro Ben Skowronek.
Free-agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ultimately could re-sign with the Rams, but he continues to rehabilitate from knee surgery and is not expected to play for the Rams or any other team until midseason.
“Coming in Year 2, I’m more comfortable,” Atwell said during offseason workouts. “You know the plays and it’s, ‘How can I help the team by making some plays when my number is called?’ ”
The Rams surprised most NFL observers when they chose Atwell with the 57th pick.
Atwell had shown at Louisville that he was a pro prospect, but the Rams selecting him that high smacked of arrogance — that McVay and general manager Les Snead thought they were smarter than everyone else.
Atwell did not quiet that narrative when he was unable to find a role in the receiver corps.
As with many rookies, he was overwhelmed mentally and physically by the demands of preparation and execution in the NFL.
He returned 10 punts and five kickoffs in eight games before suffering a seasonending shoulder injury that required surgery.
“It was kind of a learning experience,” Atwell said. On and off the field. “It’s almost like he took things for granted,” receivers coach Eric Yarber said.
Atwell made a pact with himself not to repeat his rookie mistakes. He acknowledged that elite athletes can be prideful. Some are reluctant to seek help.
But Atwell said he did not hesitate to reach out to Kupp.
“It wasn’t that difficult,” he said.
“Sometimes you’ve got to swallow that pride. He’s a great player. Triple crown. Why not?”
Atwell said Kupp took him “under his wing.”
He followed, observed and interacted with the sixth-year pro who last season led the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdown catches.
The two receivers were on the field and in the weight room almost daily, Atwell said.
“Getting stronger, getting faster and better, coaching each other,” Atwell said. “He listens to me about some things, and I listen to him.”
Atwell is a “special player” who “can do some pretty incredible things” on the field, Kupp said.
“I’m excited about … seeing some of those things come to life,” Kupp said, “because he’s been working very hard in rehab, but also just in building himself up, studying the playbook, all the stuff he needs to do to make sure when he steps on the field, he can just play his game.”
Atwell’s progress was obvious during offseason workouts and minicamp, Yarber said.
“Like night and day,” he said.
Yarber said Atwell has grasped the playbook and is on point whenever he is quizzed.
“Cooper is showing him how to be a pro — and he’s taking those lessons,” Yarber said.
Teammates have noticed.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford did not throw passes during offseason workouts, but he observed Atwell running routes and catching passes from backups John Wolford and Bryce Perkins.
“Everything he does seems to be that much more intentional,” Stafford said. “As a second-year player, and a developing player, he’s understanding that each thing is important and try to get something from each and every drill.”
Said receiver Jefferson: “You can see the maturity level from his rookie year to going into second year — that’s a leap for him. I’m excited to be on the field with him and see him play.”
Atwell is confident he will help the Rams as they attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
“I’ve always got confidence in myself — I’m going to bet on me all the time,” he said. “It’s just me doing what I have to do.”