Thu Apr 2 7:44pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) If NFL teams are unable to hold offseason workouts amid the coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe believe continuity will be a valuable commodity this fall.
That's an area where the Los Angeles Rams' offensive line should be much stronger this season.
Whitworth and Blythe are both returning to their starting jobs on the line after re-signing with the Rams as free agents. Whitworth has been Los Angeles' starting left tackle for each of coach Sean McVay's three seasons, while Blythe has started at all three interior spots on the line over the past two years.
Injuries and turnover were key factors in the offensive line's less-than-stellar performance last season, but all five starters are returning this year. They expect to be tougher and more dependable and after spending much of last season frantically filling injury holes.
“I look forward to us having a fantastic rebound,” Whitworth said Thursday.
After the Rams' offensive line had remarkable durability and consistency during McVay's first two seasons, it went through upheaval last year. Second-year pros Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom took over starting roles with little NFL experience, and both incurred season-ending injuries that forced more shuffles.
“Other guys had to step up and play, so having that experience is going to help us a lot coming into training camp,” Blythe said. “I think it will let us hit the ground running, even at the end of OTAs if we’re getting to go out there and do some football stuff. But if it happens to be training camp before we get on the field, that’s going to serve us really well.”
When the Rams hosted the Bears last November, they had four starters playing new positions on the offensive line, including Blythe moving to center from right guard. Aside from Whitworth and Blythe, the Rams' other three starters against Chicago - Bobby Evans, David Edwards and Austin Corbett - had barely played in the NFL.
“A lot of these guys unfortunately didn’t to play a lot of football before they got thrust in there to play a lot of football,” Whitworth said. “Considering at one point we had three guys who had never played in an NFL football game starting, that’s a heck of a challenge. I don’t care where you are. I think there’s a lot to build off of. I think we have a lot of young guys that will step up and play well, and they’re going to grow up and mature."
The backups are mostly all back with a year of experience. Allen, Noteboom and right tackle Rob Havenstein also are returning to the Rams' offensive line, which will be blocking for a new running back.
Los Angeles released Todd Gurley last month to get out from under his onerous contract extension before it had even kicked in, leaving career backup Malcolm Brown and second-year pro Darrell Henderson as the Rams' top running backs.
Whitworth didn't sugarcoat the setback for the Rams' offense, saying Gurley will be missed in the locker room and on the field.
“He’s just somebody who’s infectious with his attitude, and really just his toughness and how much he loves football,” Whitworth said. “Guys just gravitate to him because of that."
Whitworth officially agreed to a three-year deal this week to return for his 15th NFL season, but he isn't thinking about his future beyond the current season. To that end, he built a weight room in his garage in California over the past month to make sure his training doesn't slip while he's unable to go to the Rams' training complex.
Whitworth knows he'll need every advantage to stay on top at 38 years old, and he started planning for this possibility well before North American sports had come to a standstill. Whitworth and his wife parked their cars in the driveway, and their four children helped with the cleanup and sterilization of the garage before he trucked in plenty of weights with help from the Rams.
“I was paying attention enough to realize things would be changing and be different,” Whitworth said. “I really started almost a month ago ordering equipment and stuff that I thought I might need, and now I’ve got a full-fledged weight room at the house. The only problem is she wants to know what in the world we’re going to do with all of it when things go back to normal. So I’ve got to figure that one out, but other than that, we’re good."
May 14th: Draft Values
Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift was recently named by USA Today as one of the league's top instant impact rookies. The 21-year-old, who was drafted 35th overall in the NFL Draft, is slated to fight for carries with the oft-injured Kerryon Johnson this upcoming season. While Swift may not make an immediate impact, he could eventually find himself gobbling up carries toward the end of the year, resulting in Johnson becoming relegated to an afterthought. The former Bulldog has received plenty of praise since his selection by the team, and will likely be one of the first rookies off the board in dynasty drafts for the upcoming 2020 campaign. Swift compiled 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns off of 195 attempts (6.2 YPC) during his final season at Georgia and was also named First-Team All-SEC.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor could be involved in the team's offensive plan from the get-go this season. According to head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, they both reiterated that the rookie, along with Marlon Mack, will form an impactful one-two punch during the 2020 campaign. Mack has missed numerous games due to injury throughout his tenure in the league, but he still managed to finish with a career-best 1,091 yards in 2019. However, with the former Badger now in the mix, Mack may concede more touches in 2020 than initially thought.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has been working out with Dr. Sharif Tabbah of Athletix Rehab & Recovering, located in the Miami, Florida area. The 24-year-old, who has yet to sign an extension of his rookie contract, was relegated to playing just 14 games in 2019 as a result of a leg injury, while also accumulating a career-low six total touchdowns. With the former Tennessee Volunteer seemingly 100 percent and looking for big money in 2020, he will have extra incentive to produce, potentially surpassing his production from last year.
The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping they selected a franchise building block when they used the No. 1 overall pick on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in the NFL draft last month. While Burrow has plenty of potential and is likely to start the majority of the team's 16 games in 2020, instant success may be hard to come by. Of the 50 rookie quarterbacks to have made at least eight starts since 2000, only 13 have finished with a winning record as a starter. Burrow has plenty of upside but he might not turn into a viable fantasy option until the 2021 season, at the earliest.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy has revealed that he, in a major change of course, will play his starters during the 2020 preseason. The third-year coach had been adamant about not exposing his starters to exhibition action in his first two seasons as coach but now admits that was a mistake last season. "As we talk, that's one of the things that I look back at from last year that I'm not happy about that I made a decision to do in the preseason," Nagy said on the Waddle & Silvy Show. "Number one, I think it's good for them to have it, but number two it sets the mentality. So that's not going to happen this year." The Bears have plenty to prove in 2020 after going 8-8 last season and will have a fierce quarterback competition on their hands between newly acquired passerNick Foles and incumbent starter Mitch Trubisky. In the first half of games last season the Bears offense was, perhaps, the worst unit in football. Nagy is hoping the preseason reps will sharpen an offense with plenty to prove in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson conducted a throwing session on Friday with Marquise Brown. Jackson displayed some pinpoint accuracy while Hollywood appeared healthy after having offseason surgery on his foot back in February. With more individual workouts planned moving ahead, which will also include fellow teammate Mark Ingram II--among others--Jackson and company will likely have a leg up on others who aren't able to practice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 23-year-old signal-caller finished the 2019 season as one of the most productive fantasy options, while also being named the league's MVP. He will undoubtedly be the first quarterback off the board in fantasy drafts leading up to the 2020 campaign, and rightfully so.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert played more snaps in 2019 than all but nine other tight ends.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz's 525 receptions are the most by a tight end in NFL history through their first seven seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Ertz has reached the mark by being one of the steadiest performers at the position. He has recorded at least 74 receptions and topped 800 yards in each of the last five seasons. Ertz is a top-three fantasy tight end.
New Orleans Saints TE Jared Cook scored a career-high nine touchdowns in 2019 while averaging 16.4 yards per catch and logging 15 receptions of at least 20 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Cook has been a late bloomer, topping 700 yards in each of the past two seasons while scoring 15 of his 34 career touchdowns. He should remain a key cog of the passing attack in New Orleans in 2020, giving him top-five upside at the tight end position.
Chicago Bears WR Ted Ginn Jr. has the 'slight edge' over WR Javon Wims and WR Cordarrelle Patterson for the No. 3 receiver role, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, but Rosenthal doesn't believe any of them will play 'starter' snaps.
New England Patriots fullback Dan Vitale would like to follow in the footsteps of the now retired James Develin. Vitale is aware that he has some big shoes to fill after Develin decided to call it a career due to health concerns. This marks his fourth season in the league, but the 2020 campaign will be his first with the Pats. James was a hell-of-a player, Ive enjoyed watching him, really since I got in the league now and he was really a role model at the position," says Vitale. He knows that being versatile and using his intelligence to the best of his ability are crucial to succeeding as a fullback in the league. It sounds like Vitale is prepared for his next step in his career.
New England Patriots defensive back Joejuan Williams is increasing his value through versatility this offseason. He played 82 defensive snaps last season, which is mostly due to the fact that the Pats were stacked in the secondary. The former second-round pick from 2019 will look to carve out a role as a versatile rotational player. He will likely play both defensive back and safety for the Pats next season. Williams is not expected to have a huge role on the team, but playing multiple positions should help him get on the field more often.
Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton caught 22 of his 40 targets for 280 yards and two touchdowns in five games with Drew Lock as the starting quarterback in 2019. In his 11 other games, Sutton hauled in 50 of his 84 targets for 832 yards and four TDs.
Detroit Lions WRs Kenny Golladay amassed 35 catches on 62 targets for 640 yards and seven touchdowns with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback in 2019. Meanwhile, Marvin Jones tallied 42 receptions on 57 targets for 535 yards and six TDs prior to Stafford getting hurt.
Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon rushed for 817 yards following the team's Week 8 bye. Only Derrick Henry ran for more yards (959) over that same span, while no back topped Mixon's 177 rushing attempts.
New York Jets WR Jamison Crowder caught 70 of his 107 targets for 758 yards and six touchdowns in the 13 games Sam Darnold was able to play in 2019. In three games without Darnold, Crowder tallied eight receptions on 15 targets for 75 yards and zero scores.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson was on target with 72.5 percent of his throws in 2019 - tied for the fourth-best mark by a quarterback with at least 300 pass attempts.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins threw a catchable ball 78.8 percent of the time in 2019 - tied for the third-best mark by a quarterback with at least 300 pass attempts.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Steven Nelson allowed completions on only 29 of 62 throws in his coverage in 2019. The resulting 46.8 catch rate by receivers in his coverage was the third-lowest mark allowed by a cornerback who was targeted at least 60 times.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led the league with 109 pass attempts behind the line of scrimmage and ranked second in attempts of at least 20 yards with 102. Conversely, he finished 15th in attempts between zero and 10 yards (236) and 18th on throws between 10 and 20 yards (100).