ST. LOUIS — Todd Gurley was alone, except for a staffer with the St. Louis Rams, on the far left field at the team’s facility on Friday afternoon. While the rest of the team began individual workouts, the rookie tailback from Georgia practiced catching footballs off a passing machine.
When Gurley threw the ball back left-handed, one couldn’t help harkening back to that lobbed pass off the halfback option last year, the 50-yard pass against Vanderbilt that ended up being Georgia’s longest of the season.
“My bad,” Gurley shouted out to the staffer when one of his passes hit the ground and rolled away.
Gurley eventually joined the team for the rest of practice. But he spent much of it watching, as the Rams bring him along cautiously, nine months removed from last year’s ACL injury.
“It’s frustrating because you know you just feel like you can go or you know you just feel like you can do much more than the trainers or the coaches are giving you,” Gurley said after practice. “But, they are just trying to protect you and they’ve been through this, they have years of experience. So, no need to rush it.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Gurley “is not 100 percent,” and would not be ready to play in a game right now. But the Rams don’t open up until Sept. 13, at home against Seattle. Fisher said he couldn’t say whether Gurley would be ready by Week 1 or Week 6, but “we’re hoping that it’s somewhere in between,” which is why Gurley is on the active roster, learning the playbook and participating in some drills.
“We couldn’t ask any more from him. We have no complaints as far as what he’s doing,” Fisher said. He’s really doing a good job with everything. Every day he comes in with enthusiasm and energy, knowing that he’s just about there.”
The Rams, like all NFL teams, have players from all over the country, from big and small schools. But Gurley’s entrance into the backfield situation happened to upend the world of two fellow recent SEC backs.
Zac Stacy, the former Vanderbilt standout, had been the Rams’ leading rusher in 2013, had 293 rushing yards last year, and was hoping to compete for the job this year. But when the Rams used the 10th overall pick on Gurley, Stacy immediately tweeted out his displeasure. The Rams obliged him two days later by trading him for a seventh-round pick.
Then there’s former Auburn star Tre Mason, who as a rookie last year led the Rams with 765 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards a carry. During an interview session after Friday’s practice Mason didn’t exactly come off warm and fuzzy about Gurley’s addition.
“I feel like he’s my teammate now,” Mason said. “And if you guys want information on Todd Gurley, you should ask Todd Gurley. That’s how I feel.”
Mason was asked if he and Gurley have engaged in any Auburn-Georgia talk.
“It’s come up. We always have fun, joke around about it,” Mason said. “I’ve been doing that with Tree (Alec Ogletree, the Rams’ linebacker from Georgia). It’s fun. We knocked them off with that crazy catch at the end of the game.”
Gurley wasn’t asked about Mason, Stacy or the backfield competition during his media session with St. Louis reporters. The expectation is that once he’s healthy it will be his job. You don’t draft a tailback 10th overall – the first tailback to go in the first round in three years – just to sit him.
But Gurley, when asked if it will be Week 1 or Week 6 when he returns, didn’t set a timetable.
“Man, all I know is I’ve got tomorrow, so I can’t worry about Week 1 right now,” Gurley said.
I’ll have much more from Gurley in the coming days, reflecting on his Georgia career, as well as stories on Ogletree and more.