- Associated Press - Thursday, September 7, 2017

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) - As Todd Gurley endured a slog of a sophomore season, the running back kept hearing one thing over and over again.

It had nothing to do with the Rams’ record in their first season back in Los Angeles or the fate of his head coach. To Gurley, it seemed as if fans only wanted to talk about the impact his struggles were having on their fantasy teams.

“That’s the only thing you hear these days, fantasy football,” Gurley said, trying to hold back a laugh. “Don’t nobody care about anything else anymore.”

If Gurley can continue where he left off in a promising preseason, starting with the opener Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, those conversations could be much more pleasant.

Gurley rushed for 40 yards and one touchdown in two preseason games and also caught two passes for 22 yards, with his 12 carries tripling his workload from the previous preseason. After not rushing for 100 yards in any game and failing to produce at least 4.0 yards per carry in 14 of 16 starts last season, Gurley showed signs of a return to the aggression, power and speed that defined his successful rookie year when he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games.

“You have a year that you’re not pleased with, for sure you got to come back the next year even harder,” running back Malcolm Brown said.

More importantly, the Rams showed signs of improvement around Gurley, who ran for 885 yards and six touchdowns last season. It was evident on the offensive line, at the skill positions, in scheme and coaching.

New head coach Sean McVay brings a proven record of offensive success from his time as offensive coordinator in Washington. Center John Sullivan and left tackle Andrew Whitworth are substantial upgrades up front in terms of both experience and performance. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins can deliver the big play, with Robert Woods as a dependable target to move the chains. Rookies Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett added depth and talent in the passing game.

All those additions are intended to help second-year quarterback Jared Goff justify his status as a No. 1 overall draft pick, but Gurley could be the bigger beneficiary if opposing defenses can’t focus entirely on him with eight or nine-man boxes.

“We got too many good players,” Brown said. “We’re deep at receiver, deep at tight end. Our offensive line is doing a great job, so it’s going to spread a lot of things out for Todd.”

“There’s a lot of guys that I feel like can step up and be that go-to guy,” Gurley said. “I feel confident that we can all come together as one and make it happen.”

Gurley is upbeat about his chances to bounce back. He expects it to manifest across the offense as whole and in the win column. Anyone that drafted Gurley in fantasy football should also benefit.

“We just got that confidence about us,” Gurley said. “I’m excited. I’m very, very excited. I’m pretty sure everybody is anxious to see how we’re going to do, just like we are.”


For more NFL coverage: https://www.pro32.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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