Kyren Williams was already a dedicated, detail-oriented rookie running back for the Rams.
But a midseason 2022 body maintenance training session inspired and pushed him even further.
It was early evening and all of the Rams except Williams and senior linebacker Bobby Wagner had left the team’s training facility in Thousand Oaks.
“Why are you still here?” Williams asked Wagner, a six-time All-Pro. “Why aren’t you home?”
Wagner told Williams that he stayed in the building until 8 p.m. or later every night to study film, break down opponents and hone a craft he’d mastered for more than a decade in the NFL.
As Williams recalled the exchange, he asked himself a simple question: “If Bobby’s doing this, why not me?”
Since then, Williams has been a night owl — and an even closer observer of the game, the Rams’ offense and upcoming opponents.
“I’ve always watched film,” Williams said, “it just takes it to the next level like Bobby did.”
Williams’ preparation paid off in the Rams’ season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks. He scored his first two NFL touchdowns against a defense that included Wagner.
It paid off again last Sunday when Williams made his first start while Cam Akers was inactive and scored two touchdowns in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Akers was traded to the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday, so Williams will be the starter when the Rams play the Cincinnati Bengals on “Monday Night Football” at Paycor Stadium.
It’s a role Williams has dreamed of since growing up in St. Louis and playing at Notre Dame. But he is not overwhelmed.
“I don’t really look at it as one [individual] Opportunity, because when you do that, you kind of start thinking about other things that you don’t really need to think about,” he said. “That won’t determine who I am as a football player.
“It’s an opportunity to help the team win.”
Williams is the lead back of a position group that includes Ronnie Rivers, Royce Freeman and rookie Zach Evans. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Williams is a threat as a runner and receiver and has shown the ability to recover from mistakes.
Against the 49ers, Williams missed quarterback Matthew Stafford’s perfect throw. The ball bounced off Williams’ helmet and landed in the arms of a 49ers defensive back, where it was intercepted.
Williams has put it behind him. He ran for 52 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. He played 76 of 80 snaps on offense and four on special teams.
“He has a certain feel for the game,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said, “and then when you’re willing to put in the work and you’re already talented, that’s when it shows.”
“I don’t think he’s scratched the surface of what he’s capable of yet.”
Williams’ 17 months with the Rams were not without difficult times.
After the Rams selected him in the fifth round of the draft last year, he impressed coaches during his first offseason workouts. However, he was sidelined for most of training camp due to a foot injury that required surgery.
While the players went through drills at UC Irvine, Williams tried to stay connected while also doing rehab work.
“I had the walkie-talkie and the microphone and listened to all the play calls,” he said.
Williams was activated early in the season, but suffered an ankle injury while covering a kickoff in the opening game against the Buffalo Bills. He sat out seven games and again managed 139 yards in the final nine games.
“I learned that I can get through anything I put my mind to,” he said of overcoming injuries.
Williams’ physical abilities are obvious to teammates, but his attention to detail also stands out.
“A lot of times we’ll get to the end of a play call and I’ll mark the defender’s route or something like that, and he’s already on it and knows exactly what he’s got,” Stafford said, adding that Williams is “super attuned” to pass protection.
The offensive players also praise Williams for his blocking.
“He’ll have the strength and be willing to almost make a mistake at some point,” veteran tackle Rob Havenstein said with a laugh. “If his job is to help out a little bit, he wants to come over and beat the guy up.
“You block a guy and all of a sudden he gets sent through the formation. You’re like, ‘Man, man, calm down a little bit.’ But you love it.”
Center Coleman Shelton said, “He’s always there as our sixth guard.”
New running backs coach Ron Gould said Williams’ impressive start was no coincidence. Williams puts in a lot of work on and off the field.
“It seems like he’s been here almost as long as coach at times,” Gould said.
Williams prepared every week as if he were going to start, so there’s no need to change anything now, Gould said.
“The most important thing,” Gould said, “was just letting him know: Stick to your routine, stick to what you’re doing. And everything will be okay.”