As the Los Angeles Rams best player and primary offensive weapon, second-year running back Todd Gurley is afforded a special status by head coach Jeff Fisher. Gurley is not to be hit and is supposed to be treated “like a freakin' quarterback.”
Those weren't Fisher's only instructions about Gurley on the HBO documentary series "Hard Knocks."
"Gurley doesn't need to f---ing be hit in the 9-on-7 [drill], OK?" Fisher said during a recent episode. "I don't want '30' tackled. We need '30.'"
On Wednesday, Gurley wound up at the bottom of a pile during practice after a scuffle involving running back Benny Cunningham, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, and several other players. Gurley fell to the ground and players were reportedly hovering over him and he proceeded to slam his helmet on the ground while walking away unhurt.
Fisher wasn’t upset at Gurley for getting into the mix and outright praised him, and the coach didn’t slam any other players for the heated and physical exchange either. Instead, Fisher just stopped the drills and gave his squad “a timeout.”
"That was his choice, OK?" Fisher said of Gurley. "We all need to be smarter than that, but that was his choice -- shows you what kind of competitor he is."
Ogletree, who appeared only four games last season due to injury, didn’t go into detail about what started the minor fracas and even downplayed the incident.
“It was just competing, man," Ogletree said. "Tempers flare, you know. Things like that are going to happen. [Fisher] cooled us down, everybody got back together. We settled our issues and went on with practice, finished out the day. ... We’re all still brothers and teammates, and we definitely look out for one another. We’re going to put that behind us and keep working."
A little fiery competition is perhaps what the Rams, who have won no more than seven games a season since 2012, might just need as they reintroduce the NFL to Los Angeles and as they prep for an important preseason matchup against the Denver Broncos Saturday at Mile High.
The nationally televised season opener against the San Francisco 49ers is just 18 days away, and Fisher and offensive coordinator Rob Boras still have to decide on a starting quarterback.
While rookie quarterback Jared Goff has reportedly fallen even farther behind projected starter Case Keenum and second-stringer Sean Mannion, a strong showing against the Broncos vaunted defense could go a long way on the depth chart and his confidence heading into the season. Goff has completed 12-21 passes for 120 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
As for who will protect the quarterback and open holes for Gurley this season, the Rams continue to look for more depth along the offensive line with tackle Darrell Williams and centers Eric Kush and Demetrius Rhaney battling for spots. The Rams offensive line was ranked No. 28 by ProFootballFocus in 2015, and the club didn't draft one center, guard or tackle in April.
The wide receiver picture has also become clearer. Veteran Kenny Britt is likely to hold down the No. 1 spot and Tavon Austin No. 2, but the No. 3 spot appears to be up for grabs. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh inherits a unit that finished last in the league in passing, but there is optimism surrounding fourth-round pick Pharoh Cooper and even sixth-round pick Michael Thomas, despite some dropped passes.
Rookies Paul McRoberts, Nelson Spruce and Duke Williams will also compete for a job against second-year pro Bradley Marquez, who suffered an ankle injury, and fifth-year pro Brian Quick.