Thousand Oaks, Calif. — Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods were just about as close as two receivers can be during their five seasons together with the Los Angeles Rams.
They worked out together, studied together and built a lifelong bond that will outlast Woods’ surprising offseason trade to Tennessee.
As Kupp begins his attempt this month to build on one of the greatest seasons by a pass-catcher in NFL history, he won’t have Woods by his side. Instead, newcomer and Detroit native Allen Robinson has stepped in with a hunger for success and a playing style that appears to complement Kupp quite well.
After sitting out the preseason, they’ll finally play a game together Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills.
“I think at this point, everyone is pretty much ready to move on and see what 2022 is about,” Kupp said. “I think that’s been the thing from the very beginning: What can we be about? It’s a new year, and what’s the old saying? Rent comes due every day.”
Even with several months’ distance, Kupp’s 2021-22 numbers are mind-boggling: He led the NFL with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns in the 17-game regular season, becoming the fourth receiver in the Super Bowl era and the first since 2005 to win the so-called triple crown of receiving.
He built on his first career All-Pro season and his AP Offensive Player of the Year award in the playoffs, making 45 more catches for 625 yards and six touchdowns. The last score was the most important, because it turned out to be the winning points in the Super Bowl on a 1-yard catch with 1:25 to play.
Kupp won the Super Bowl MVP award with eight catches for 92 yards and two TDs. What followed was an offseason of awards, plaudits, public recognition and stardom at a level he hadn’t experienced.
He appreciated the attention – well, not all of it, since he decided he hates dressing up to walk red carpets – but he quickly trained his focus back to the day-to-day NFL grind.
“I don’t really have individual goals,” Kupp said. “My goal is just to be a better football player, whatever that is. The numbers might not come out the same. They might not be better, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care about that stuff. I just want to win games, and be able to watch the film and say I’m a better football player than I was last year.”
He’ll do it without Woods, who was dealt for a sixth-round pick shortly after the Rams lost Von Miller in free agency and elected to turn their resources to what general manager Les Snead saw as an upgrade at receiver.
Woods joined Todd Gurley and Jared Goff in the dubious club of key Rams players who were signed to massive contract extensions by Snead and then traded or released before those extensions even began.
Robinson has three career 1,000-yard seasons and a reputation as a sure-handed, big-bodied receiver who excels on jump balls. He appears to be fitting in well with the Rams, and his no-nonsense attitude underlines the importance of this opportunity for a 29-year-old receiver finally getting a chance to play for one of the NFL’s elite teams after eight seasons in Jacksonville and Chicago.
“The most important thing is just focusing in on the nuances of what I need to do and get accomplished to make this offense better,” Robinson said. “Every day for me is about staying locked in, staying in tune with what’s being asked, and polishing it.”
Kupp and Robinson will be particularly important to the Rams until the return of Van Jefferson, who started all 21 games last season. Jefferson had knee surgery early in training camp, and his absence seems likely to extend beyond the season opener.
With Odell Beckham still unsigned and recovering from knee surgery, the Rams’ other receivers are all young and untested: Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, Brandon Powell and undrafted rookie Lance McCutcheon.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is likely to lean on his veteran duo to get the Rams off to a strong start.
“He’s been so good for us through this whole time, through the OTAs to training camp,” Kupp said of Robinson. “To be able to play some meaningful football now is going to be really fun. To see him as a competitor and see the dog come out, just to go through a real game with him, is going to be fun. I know he’s pumped to get out there and compete.”
Trubisky named starter
Mike Tomlin deliberately — and quite effectively — declined to announce a starting quarterback for months, even as all signs pointed to Mitch Trubisky.
Tomlin, the Steelers’ longtime head coach, wanted to wait until — as he said over and over and over during the offseason and throughout training camp — the time was “appropriate.”
In the end, Tomlin let his players effectively make the announcement for him, then quietly reinforced it not with his booming voice but with a piece of paper.
Trubisky will be the starter on Sunday when Pittsburgh begins the post-Ben Roethlisberger era in Cincinnati. Tomlin placed Trubisky’s name atop the depth chart on Monday afternoon, just hours after Trubisky’s teammates selected him as one of Pittsburgh’s five co-captains for the 2022 season.
“I just think he’s a guy who people rally around,” defensive tackle Cam Heyward said of Trubisky, who arrived in free agency in March. “He’s all about team. He’s very bought in. He understands and Coach T says it, he’s carrying our hopes and dreams on every single play.”
Trubisky has said all the right things and done all the right things seemingly from the moment he signed a two-year deal for the chance to replace Roethlisberger. He reached out individually to the returning players on offense and welcomed the skill position players to his home in South Florida during the spring in hopes of building chemistry.
Trubisky began the spring atop the depth chart and despite a push from Mason Rudolph and rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett — both of whom performed well throughout the offseason program and training camp — Trubisky never provided much reason for Tomlin to switch things up.
If anything, Tomlin reinforced the status quo.
Rudolph is listed as the primary backup with Pickett starting his first season in the NFL on the third string, a move that gives Pickett time to get acclimated to life as a pro and gives Trubisky breathing room.
Even if he struggles in his return to a starting role after spending 2021 as a backup in Buffalo, it is unlikely the second overall pick in the 2017 draft would be replaced by Rudolph during a game unless he’s injured.
Trubisky toed the line early Monday afternoon before he was formally anointed, saying simply “you’re not going to hear it from me,” when asked if being a co-captain meant he had won the job.
The answer was typical Trubisky, who has made it a point to deflect attention as best he can and say as little as possible. The way he figures it, his actions will speak far louder than any words ever could.
“You just want to be that guy day in and day out that guys can look to like, ‘Hey, if I do it the way this guy does it, we’re going to be heading in the right direction,’” said Trubisky, who went 29-21 in four seasons with Chicago.
Heyward, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, special teams ace Miles Killebrew and second-year running back Najee Harris were also elected captains.
Harris, 24, set a franchise rookie record by running for 1,200 yards in 2021. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates with his work ethic and discipline.
“You know, he’s a guy that leads by example, doesn’t say a lot,” Heyward said of Harris. “But I just think he was destined to be captain. He was a guy that when you looked at our roster, you know, he’s the bell cow. And so we’ve had bell cows that haven’t been captains, but it’s what he does off the field. He’s locked in.”
Trubisky found it telling that Harris flew to Pittsburgh on the day Trubisky officially signed. Harris gave Trubisky a rough sketch of the offense and the team’s goals for 2022 and beyond.
“He was there for me from day one,” Trubisky said. “And to me, those are the little things that people don’t see that leaders do on a day-to-day basis, having those relationships that go deeper and beyond (the surface) with your teammates. And that’s why he is who he is.”
There’s still a chance Zach Wilson will open the season for the Jets under center instead of on the sideline. Coach Robert Saleh said during a Zoom call that Wilson did some throwing on the field Monday while testing out his surgically repaired right knee, which was injured in the preseason opener at Philadelphia on Aug. 12.
… The Panthers signed veteran defensive end Henry Anderson, giving them some added experience up front. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound Anderson has spent seven seasons in the league with 170 tackles and 111/2 sacks during his time with Indianapolis, the Jets and New England. He spent last season with the Patriots, playing in four games with three tackles.
… The Cowboys signed free-agent left tackle Jason Peters to a one-year contract, adding a longtime NFC East rival with the Eagles to address injury issues on the offensive line. Peters will begin his Dallas tenure on the practice squad and probably won’t be ready for the opener. The Cowboys released defensive end Mika Tafua to make room for Peters.
… The Browns added depth at two key positions, signing offensive tackle Joe Haeg and tight end Jesse James, who both previously played for rival Pittsburgh.
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