Sports

Second chapter: Bobby Wagner already makes impact on LA Rams

Virtually every player with a horned helmet raves about Wagner’s influence on their work habits and football intelligence

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Bobby Wagner is still adjusting to the fact that he’s now working with Sean McVay, not against him.

After five years of trying to stop McVay’s offense two or three times a season for the Seattle Seahawks, Wagner is now making the Los Angeles Rams better.

Instead of trying to get inside McVay’s head to anticipate his moves, the veteran linebacker and the offensive coach put their heads together.

“Now we can feed each other,” said Wagner. “His energy was crazy. We were in constant communication, even in the off-season. Get in touch, just check in and stuff like that. It was cool. It’s been a blessing to be coached by him over the past few months.”

The Rams signed the 32-year-old Wagner as the game-changing inside linebacker they’ve clearly been missing in recent years. But the defending Super Bowl champion also signed the six-time All-Pro because of his impact on the entire organization, and the signs can already be seen when the Rams head out for their season opener against the Chargers on Saturday night.

Virtually every player with a horned helmet is gushing about Wagner’s influence on their work habits and football intelligence, but they also can’t wait to see what impact he will have on Sundays.

“You go back and watch the games (at practice) and you just have a smile on your face,” Aaron Donald said. “I might jump on my gap and then he’s there to feel it so fast because he’s only going downhill. He understands where things are going and he can play so much faster. Just seeing how he moves, how he plays definitely excites us.”

The Rams didn’t sign Wagner specifically to teach Ernest Jones how to be a great inside linebacker, but Jones sometimes feels like he’s won the football lottery. He’ll spend his second NFL season lining up alongside one of his idols — and racking his brains afterwards.

“It’s crazy that he’s playing with us now and I’m learning from him because he was like the guy I used to watch,” Jones said.

Wagner will have the green dot on his helmet as the Rams’ defensive signalman and has already taken a natural leadership role beyond barking signals: he’s a sounding board for his teammates and an example to watch in practice every day.

Jones often finds himself admiring Wagner’s nose for the ball and knack for positioning.

“It’s like every day, even if I’m watching a movie and he’s making plays that the regular linebacker wouldn’t make,” Jones said. “The average wouldn’t do that, but he goes out there and does it so well. Every time I see that I’m like, ‘That’s why his name is so well known and why he’s Bobby Wagner.'”

Before Wagner’s arrival, McVay’s Rams seemed to pay little attention to the influence of a centre-back. Cory Littleton has had two productive seasons at the spot, but Los Angeles has otherwise fielded modest contributors at the position. Opponents took notice and in recent years have been targeting players like Troy Reeder, Kenny Young and Micah Kiser, particularly on passing plays.

But the Rams drafted Jones in the third round last year and quickly put him in a starting spot, especially after he showed solid pass coverage skills. When Wagner was dropped by Seattle and the Rams found Cap-Room through Von Miller’s departure to Buffalo, they signed him in a move that signaled a change in philosophy at the position.

At least that’s the assumption: How defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will use both Wagner and Jones is a question that will not be answered until September. But their presence gives the Rams several new options as they add two inside linebackers to the defensive scheme installed by Brandon Staley and refined into a championship-winning setup by Morris last season.

Wagner has made it clear he never wanted to leave Seattle, but the benefits of moving are already evident. Wagner was born in Los Angeles and grew up on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and his family members were regulars at Rams training camp in Irvine.

Wagner already seems comfortable with his new team, and the rest of the Rams are grateful he accepted a late career move. Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis also grew up idolizing Wagner, but he’s already learned his new teammate is here to work on winning a second ring — not to hark back to the Legion of Boom or past accomplishments to remember.

“I talk to Bobby a lot, just about the way he takes care of his body and things that I’ve seen throughout his career,” said Lewis, who has struggled a lot with injuries in his two seasons.

“I grew up with him. When he got here, I used to tease him like, ‘Brother, relax with that.’ I always said ‘LOB!’ And he’d be like, ‘Man, relax. That’s old, that’s old.’”

https://www.king5.com/article/sports/second-chapter-bobby-wagner-already-makes-impact-on-la-rams/281-268db4cb-36be-49ff-8f46-b832e8de6270 Second chapter: Bobby Wagner already makes impact on LA Rams

Emma Bowman

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