THOUSAND OAKS — Sony Michel was a spectator Thursday when Rams regulars banged through an intrasquad scrimmage on a hot morning. He was going to have to learn the plays before he could run any. And he’d had plenty of activity over the previous 24 hours.
After being told he’d been traded from the New England Patriots to the Rams at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Michel was on the next flight out of Boston that afternoon and was being shown around his new workplace first thing the next morning.
He likened it to “sudden change” mode on the football field, right after the ball is turned over.
“Something suddenly happens, and you’ve got to get ready to execute. Not much time can be wasted,” Michel said after his first Rams practice, in which he participated in individual drills and then stood and watched from the sideline. “You’ve got to get up, get ready to go, get adjusted and acclimated.”
The pace isn’t likely to ease up for Michel, 26, the former first-round draft pick and two-time 900-yard rusher whom the Rams acquired in a trade for 2022 draft picks.
Michel is being counted on to digest the playbook fast and be ready – in time for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Bears at SoFi Stadium – to reinforce a backfield thinned out by Cam Akers’ pre-training-camp Achilles injury.
“Today’s going to be my first day to get that crack at it,” he said of picking up the offense. “I’m going to try to dive in and try to learn as much as I can.”
The Rams know enough about Michel, who is 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, to see his experience providing a big-game presence in the running backs room, and his quick cuts and north-south running being a complement to Darrell Henderson and penciled-in backups Jake Funk and Xavier Jones.
They know him first-hand from Super Bowl LIII, a rookie rushing for 94 yards and scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Rams.
Said Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, asked Thursday what he remembered of Michel from that night: “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The question now is whether Michel will open the season as a starter, as a backup to Henderson, or sharing playing time.
Before a quadriceps injury limited him in 2020, he carried 20 times a game for stretches in his three years with the Patriots.
“Is he capable of it (starting)? Absolutely. His track record says that,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “The anticipation is that he’s coming in here to contribute and to be a big factor. How big a factor is to be determined, ’cause today was the first day we saw him, and we really haven’t gotten started with him yet.”
A determining factor will be how fast Michel learns the playbook.
“Fortunately,” McVay said, “I’ve seen guys that are really conscientious and been able to come in, in a short amount of time, and make contributions. You look at C.J. Anderson a couple of years ago, what he was able to do.”
It helps that Michel will be learning from Rams running backs coach and assistant head coach Thomas Brown, a fellow Georgia alum who was Michel’s position coach in his sophomore season.
Michel, who will wear No. 14, sounded eager to get started in L.A.
“As a professional, that’s part of our job, to be able to process things fast, things that are thrown at you,” he said. “My goal is to dive in and learn as much as I can.”
A’Shawn Robinson and the Rams were looking forward to a full season from the defensive end, who went on a workout and diet regime to lose weight after health problems cost him the first half of his first season in L.A.
But Robinson is going to miss the start of the season again after McVay said he needs “a little minor procedure” and will be out of action “the next few weeks.”
Next at defensive end on the Rams’ depth chart are two players who have yet to play an NFL down, Eric Banks and fifth-round draft pick Earnest Brown IV.
Outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo missed another day of practice after suffering a stinger. McVay said the Rams hope the shoulder heals with medication.
McVay, like General Manager Les Snead the day before, left open the possibility the Rams will let go of four-time All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker and keep former Bills punter Corey Bojorquez (Mayfair High, Cerritos College).
“I’ve seen two guys that have performed at a really high level,” McVay said of the competition. “Everybody knows what Johnny has meant to this team, to me, really to our organization, and this goes back before I got here. Corey’s come in and done a nice job. We’re going to continue to evaluate that.”
ON THE FIELD
Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage gave first- and second-stringers game-like reps (though without tackling) before backups take over again for the final preseason game against the Broncos on Saturday in Denver.
Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp connected on a deep completion. Jordan Fuller, Troy Reeder and Kenny Young made nice pass breakups, and Young knocked down Kupp after a catch. Funk had a solid kickoff return.
McVay liked seeing how Stafford handles live action.
“Our defense gave him some things that we hadn’t really shown yet, and we didn’t really prep him for it, and (his) ability to recognize it and get the ball where it’s supposed to be … it was encouraging,” McVay said.