- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2016

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) - Todd Gurley watched most of his first NFL training camp from the sidelines. He would do a few individual drills on his healing knee while his Rams teammates worked together.

Just about everything has changed in the past year for Gurley and the Rams. For starters, their training camp sideline is no longer in the Midwest, and Gurley isn’t on it.

“It just feels good to just be able to be out here,” Gurley said after the Rams’ opening workout of camp at UC Irvine. “First day (of last year’s training camp), I wasn’t doing anything. I probably wasn’t doing anything until the end of training camp.”

The second-year running back is in the thick of practice this summer for Los Angeles, with no bigger physical problems than normal fatigue as he works on a worthy sequel to his sensational rookie season.

There’s no need for patience with Gurley during this training camp in Orange County, yet the Rams intend to be cautious with the most important piece of their quest to improve the NFL’s least productive offense last season.

“This is Todd’s first full offseason program, so that’s different for him,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s in great shape right now. (Gurley will get) a few carries here and there during the preseason games. He’s going to get his workload in practice, more so than he will in the games. That just makes sense to us.”

After Gurley’s remarkable success last season, it was easy to forget the risk taken by the Rams when they chose him with the 10th overall pick. The speedy Georgia back tore a ligament in his knee in the previous November, and he wasn’t fully recovered from surgery when the draft rolled around.

The Rams were patient with Gurley, who couldn’t participate much in the Rams’ 2015 offseason program. He practiced only without pads in the late stages of training camp, and he didn’t play until the third game of the regular season.

Gurley took off in October with four straight 125-yard games, and he remained a steady contributor until sitting out the season finale. He was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year with 1,106 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in 13 games.

“The guys were able to see what I was able to do last year,” Gurley said. “So just being able to take (a bigger) role on, and just being able to tell myself ‘OK, if you do stuff good, the team is going to roll off that.’ I’m just trying to go out there and create as much energy for the whole offense.”

In camp, Gurley will work on minimizing fumbles - he only had three on 229 carries - and improving his pass-catching skills after making just 21 receptions last year.

Although Gurley doesn’t even turn 22 years old until Wednesday, the Rams already count on him to be a leader, a prolific tailback and a good influence on Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the draft. Gurley and the new quarterback have been texting since draft day, building their rapport on and off the field.

The Rams clearly intend to run the ball extensively this year. Gurley might also shoulder a larger load of the carries in the absence of Tre Mason, last season’s backup, who has cut off contact with the team after an offseason filled with legal troubles.

Los Angeles seems likely to sign another running back to join veteran Benny Cunningham as Gurley’s backups, but Gurley is ready to take on most of the work in September if necessary.

“Obviously, I know we’re going to run the ball,” Gurley said. “I’m a running back, so if you give me the ball, I’ll be happy. I’ll just come out here, work hard and whatever they call in the game, I’ll be happy with it.”

Gurley is also settling nicely into his new West Coast home, although his new fans are still getting to know his face and dreadlocks. His national endorsement deal with Carl’s Jr. is changing that as well.

“Nobody really knows football players,” Gurley said with a grin. “I mean, I have gotten a lot of questions like, ‘Oh, you’re that guy from the burger commercial?’ So that’s my name now. I’m the guy from the burger commercial.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/AP_NFL


Follow Greg Beacham at www.twitter.com/gregbeacham

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