THOUSAND OAKS — The first Ram to touch the ball this season could be a player drafted in the last round.
Jake Funk, the seventh-round pick from Maryland who made the roster as No. 3 running back, appears to be the choice to return kickoffs for the Rams while rookie wide receiver Tutu Atwell looks likely to return punts.
Coach Sean McVay wouldn’t come right out and say that two days before the Rams open the season against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night, but he continued to speak glowingly of Funk.
The Rams saw the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Funk as a prospect for that role after he returned 13 kickoffs for an 18.2-yard average and no touchdowns in a college career interrupted twice by knee injuries.
“He’s a guy that we liked because he did so many good things on special teams,” McVay said. “And then, in the limited (reps) that you had as far as playing the running-back position, you saw the explosiveness and saw the ability to be able to make plays in the run game but also contribute (blocking) in the pass game.
“I really have a lot of confidence with whatever role he’s asked (to perform) on Sunday.”
The Rams want to improve their return game after Nsimba Webster performed below the league average in 2020. Webster was waived in July. He’s now with the Bears.
Defensive end A’Shawn Robinson, who had a knee problem, was listed as a full participant in practice for the first time in more than two weeks and available for Sunday’s game in the official injury report Friday.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was given a veteran’s day off from practice but was running on the sideline two days before his Rams debut. Rookie wide receiver Ben Skowronek (forearm) was listed as doubtful.
Center Coleman Shelton was activated after 10 days on the COVID-19 reserve list. Rookie outside linebacker Chris Garrett remained on the list; Justin Lawler could be elevated from the practice squad to fill in.
WHITWORTH IS READY
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth dismissed any concern about his left knee going into the season.
Whitworth, who turns 40 in December, sprained his MCL and PCL and missed seven regular-season games in 2020 before returning for the playoffs.
“The (rehab) process has been grueling at times,” Whitworth said Friday. “There are different things you’ve got to do to strengthen it, and sometimes you feel like you’ve made progress, and sometimes you don’t.
“Now you’re kind of past that phase. It’s going out and executing. Really, the knee’s not going to be a factor.”
CHANGES AT SOFI
In a letter to season ticket holders, Rams COO Kevin Demoff highlighted responses to fans’ complaints during the preseason, when crowds were allowed in SoFi Stadium for games for the first time.
“Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to provide us with your thoughts on wayfinding, transportation, concessions, security and more,” Demoff wrote, saying the Rams “are using it all to improve the experience.”
He said changes for Sunday’s regular-season opener include expanding food offerings in the stadium, opening the Pink Tailgate Zone five hours prior to kickoff, an hour earlier than other lots, and adding better signs and online directions to help fans find their seats.
Demoff wrote that the Rams are working to improve Wi-Fi in the stadium.