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Eastern Washington University Football

Rams forced to manage Cooper Kupp without hamstringing offense

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp looks for running room against Philadelphia Eagles defenders during the second half Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.  (Tribune News Service)
By Gary Klein Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – The aftermath of Cooper Kupp’s first game with the Los Angeles Rams this season apparently was not as physically painful as it could have been.

So the veteran receiver from Eastern Washington University was in good spirits this week as he reflected on the tolerable toll he endured playing against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It was right in the middle,” Kupp quipped after practice Thursday. “It wasn’t quite like you were in a car crash, but it was like you did something – so a perfect medium.”

Kupp, who came back from a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve for the first four games, looked like his typical self during the Rams’ 23-14 loss to the Eagles. He caught eight passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford and eclipsed 100 yards receiving for the 29th time in his career.

Now perhaps a bigger test awaits Kupp when he plays the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Kupp and the Rams’ training staff had months to prepare him physically for his season debut against the Eagles.

Kupp has only a week to recover and prepare for the Cardinals – and what will be a week-to-week management plan for the next 12 games and possibly longer.

“It’s definitely a different mentality,” Kupp said.

Kupp will play the Cardinals for the first time since suffering a season-ending injury against them last year. It was exactly a year ago Friday that Kupp leaped for the errant sideline pass from former backup quarterback John Wolford as a Cardinals defender dived beneath him. Kupp fell to the turf and rolled out of bounds clutching his right ankle.

It was the final play that Kupp, the most valuable player of Super Bowl LVI, participated in during the Rams’ 5-12 season. Kupp recovered from surgery in time for training camp but suffered a right hamstring injury during a drill and did not heal in time for the opener.

Last Sunday at SoFi Stadium, Kupp showed that patience paid off. He played 53 of the Rams’ 56 offensive snaps.

“It was good to be able to see him go out there and play a full game’s workload and come out feeling good,” coach Sean McVay said this week. “I only think he’s going to continue to get more and more comfortable as he acclimates to playing more games and more snaps.”

Kupp’s health became more paramount after the Rams traded Van Jefferson to the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday.

Jefferson was the odd man out in a receiver corps that includes Kupp, rookie Puka Nacua and third-year pro Tutu Atwell. But at the least, Jefferson offered experienced insurance if Kupp or another receiver is sidelined because of injuries.

“You never know,” McVay said. “You just pray and you hope that our guys are able to stay healthy and that you’ve got some of the depth.”

Kupp, a seventh-year pro, said he was confident in the Rams’ receivers, who also include Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson and Austin Trammell. Tyler Johnson is expected to be activated to the roster from the practice squad.

“We’ve got depth that I don’t think people have seen yet,” Kupp said. “I’m excited about seeing these guys and what this looks like.”

Kupp and Nacua, who leads the NFL with 46 catches, will remain the main targets for Stafford. The two receivers hark to the early years of the McVay era, when Kupp and Robert Woods formed a formidable duo.

Nacua, as Woods did during his first four seasons with the Rams, wears jersey No. 17.

“Their games are real similar,” Kupp said. “Slasher mind-set, physical, tough mentality, all that stuff is there.”

The Rams need Kupp, Nacua, Stafford and the rest of the offense to perform well for four quarters if they are to stop a trend of uneven offensive performances.

The Eagles shut out the Rams in the second half, the fourth game in a row that the Rams have lagged in the final two quarters.

As his body and mind round into game shape, Kupp could help the Rams regain the production they last displayed in their season-opening victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Kupp said he had no physical limitations against the Eagles. His on-field processing still needs work, he said.

“Being able to make a decision, and know what the answer is quickly,” he said. “But that’s going to come.”