One play ‘it’ factor in reminding Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford of connection

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp returned to practice Monday, but everyone knew he was back-back after one specific play.

During 11-on-11s in the Rams’ team period of the practice, Kupp broke outward on a route toward the sideline as quarterback Matthew Stafford unfurled a throw to his left, barely glancing over toward Kupp as he did. It was all feel, all timing. Kupp, covered by talented second-year cornerback Cobie Durant, snatched the ball out of the air out of a spot only he could get to it. He tapped both toes on the grass just millimeters from the sideline.

Durant clapped his hands together once in disappointment, and special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn sprinted up the sideline to him, reassuring Durant that it was OK — the coverage was right. It’s just … there isn’t much anybody can do about that play, when it works like it is supposed to.

In Thursday’s joint practice against the Denver Broncos, Kupp did it again. The ball may as well have been in Kupp’s hands the entire time, for how seamlessly it flew from Stafford, who threw toward the sideline and to his left, and how it sailed right over a defender and then dropped like a stone in water.

Of any throw and catch, that’s the one that reminds onlookers that, even though Kupp missed a few weeks with a hamstring injury, his connection with Stafford hasn’t missed a beat.

“There was a play in a third-down period when the ball had to come out during perfect timing, and it was a far sideline throw,” head coach Sean McVay said after Thursday’s practice, after I asked him if there was a play he saw that day that reminded him just how well the two veteran players click. “It was on a third down, in one of those tighter windows in those medium ranges. As soon as his eyes come around, that ball is on him. That was one that was an excellent execution.”

Kupp felt that too, noting the outbreaking routes as particularly feeling good through the week, “where he’s throwing back to his left, to the blind side. He’s throwing to a blind sideline. Pretty good.”

“That’s the tough one. Matthew is opening up to his opposite side and trusting that spot, especially when you’re going up against a defense. It’s easier on air. But when you’re going up against a defense (and) having to feel those spots and trust those throws, that’s a pretty good one.”

Kupp said that behind the scenes, he got about 30 passes from Stafford in a “return to play” session prior to the practices. Then he joked, “then we switch and I threw him some passes. And he dropped a few … working on that. To be honest with you, some of those came out a little low. I know the nose was down on some of them, making them tough on him.”

Kupp pulled up during a one-on-one red zone drill just a few days into training camp, and then left that practice with a member of the Rams’ medical staff.

“I ended up feeling it really pretty early on, a little (hamstring) tug the fifth or sixth day,” he said.

Over the next several weeks, he worked to the side with athletic trainers as teammates practiced, with an eye on getting valuable work in during one of the two sets of joint practices organized by the Rams. Kupp would not play in preseason games anyway, so repping against opposing defenses in those practices were important.


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Kupp also said that he’s on track for the Sept. 10 opener at Seattle. But, he added, “on track” to him doesn’t just mean physically able to play.

“It was really like, the ultimate goal is to be ready for Week 1,” he said, “that doesn’t mean ‘coming back’, it means being ready to play. Being able to get reps with these guys, build that chemistry with Matthew. Really just being out there (and) seeing things again, getting all that sequencing and patterning and all of that stuff down. … But it feels good to be back out there again, competing with them.”

While Kupp practiced fully Monday and Wednesday, he was limited Thursday. That was planned by the team, who didn’t want to overwork Kupp in his first week back especially after recovering from as fickle a soft-tissue injury as a hamstring is.

“He’s a mentally tough guy, and he’s going to be a hugely important part of our team this year,” McVay said. “Looking forward to getting him back out here on a consistent basis.”

(Photo of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp: Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

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