As the Rams’ Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp get healthier, Stetson Bennett is turning some heads in minicamp

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

This season, Stafford returns to the field after missing the latter half of the 2022 season with a neck injury. Kupp returns after missing the last six weeks of the season with a high ankle sprain.

In minicamp, which concluded Wednesday, Stafford appeared to make strong throws during red-zone work and Kupp had an increased workload.

“I feel pretty good [physically]. It’s great [to be back], I love being out here, being able to practice 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 feels great to get a lot of reps in the off-season and I’m feeling good and excited to come back in July.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford (left) and wide receiver Cooper Kupp are both looking to return from injuries for the 2023 season. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

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

Head coach Sean McVay had high praise for the new guys, seeing strong development and performance from them this offseason and now feels more comfortable with his wide receiver corps, a group that was plagued by injuries last year.

“[Tyler] is a guy that you can see getting more comfortable, the game makes sense for him,” McVay said. “He has good aggressive hands and he has a good ability to work edges. Demarcus is a guy who has had a lot of production with Kansas City and did a good job in Baltimore. Both of those guys have played in games and it’s good 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 being brought back up to competition speed this week, but McVay says they will be ready to go in training camp in July.

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 13: Quarterback Stetson Bennett #13 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during minicamp 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 on back-to-back national champion Stetson Bennett of Georgia. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Rookie standouts include Stetson Bennett

McVay also praised the 2023 rookie class, which he says has been productive and professional in this week’s camp.

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

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

Also turning some heads, whose minicamp praise can be taken at face value, is back-to-back national champion quarterback and fourth-round draft pick Stetson Bennett. His athleticism hasn’t gone unnoticed in camp, and both Stafford and Kupp, along with McVay, spoke highly of the former Georgia Bulldog star.

“I’ve been really happy for him,” McVay said. “The one thing that stands out is that when the ball is in Stetson’s hands, the play makes sense to him. He has a good feel for being able to get through progressions quickly. He can sense space on the back end as it relates to different coverage counters that he’s seen, but he feels open areas and gets through things quickly. I love the athleticism, but there’s a lot of work to be done. He stays nice and steady, doesn’t get too high or low, and he’s fun to do. Be around.”

“He’s done a great job,” Stafford said. “Even though it’s a lot for a young guy to process and a lot to learn, he’s done a great job. He’s got great athleticism, throws the ball well and does a lot of things really well. I’m happy for him.”

Kupp noted that Stetson made some “big-time throws” in practice.

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

“I don’t pay much attention [the expectations]” Stafford said. “I know what we’re trying to build is a really good football team, and it’s going to take work. Whether people think it will happen, it doesn’t matter to us. Just because people said we were going to win the Super Bowl two years ago doesn’t mean we did [because of that]. We put in the work, we did. That’s the mindset we have and we’re happy to be where we are.”

The Rams will have the next few weeks off before returning to training camp on July 25 in Irvine. Anders is expected back at the start of training camp and Kupp is expected to be at full speed. The Rams also have scheduled joint practices with the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders around that time.

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