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    Rams WR Puka Nacua learning to work in tandem with Cooper Kupp
    • October 13, 2023

    THOUSAND OAKS – The comparison has been running rampant since Rams rookie receiver Puka Nacua broke out at the start of the season. It’s only gotten stronger as he continued to put up big numbers, then didn’t show any letdown after Cooper Kupp’s return.

    Nacua, the comp goes, is in the Robert Woods role.

    Kupp and Woods were a formidable duo early in the former’s career, each gaining over 1,000 yards in 2019 and nearly repeating the feat in 2020. Nacua is filling a similar role for the Rams in 2023, playing the same position as Woods and providing toughness and versatility as Woods did. He even wears Woods’ No. 17.

    But make the comparison to head coach Sean McVay, and he grows serious.

    “Robert Woods is one of my all-time favorites, one of the best competitors that I’ve ever been around. He did so many different things for us,” McVay said. “You start putting guys in that kind of category, that’s a big mantle to be able to put on. But [Puka] is a guy that can fulfill a lot of the roles. I want to continue to see him take steps in the right direction, which, I love what he’s done and he’s all about the right stuff. He and Robert are special types of players, and they’re few and far between.”

    Nacua can see the similarities, too. As the Rams install plays, they play tape from a few years ago to get an idea of how defenses will react and the timing of routes. And he sees Woods in his current role in the offense, showing physicality and energy, two characteristics that Nacua prides himself on.

    But he also sees someone who understands how to work in tandem with Kupp.

    “It helps because he’s somebody that’s moved with Cooper Kupp, you can see the tempo and the pace that they need to move with,” Nacua said. “There’s an urgency to it, for sure.”

    When you think of chemistry in football, the connection between quarterback and receiver likely comes to mind first, or an offensive line and running back working in tandem in the run game.

    But a receiving corps needs to build its own rapport, too. They need to understand the routes their counterparts are running — their destination, and the path they will take to get there – so that each route complements and sets up the other, rather than interferes.

    Kupp is a stickler for such things, and has worked with Nacua on understanding that spacing and how it changes depending on the looks the defense presents.

    For instance, during a practice, Kupp motioned as the slotback behind Nacua. He told the rookie what the coverage was before the snap.

    “The ability for me to determine before I’m like actually into my route, oh, the defense is playing this, I can get outside on this route, I’m just going to clear the way,” Nacua explained. “Coop is super big on alignment, making sure every yard before the ball’s even snapped matters. If you need to work a certain type of leverage, if you need to slip him inside, all those yards matter.”

    It’s something that will evolve over the course of the season, even after the duo debuted with a combined 15 receptions for 189 yards against the Eagles.

    But Kupp can see the similarities between his new running mate and his one of old.

    “It is something kind of cool about that seeing 17 back out in the field again,” Kupp said. “I mean their games are real similar, slasher mindset, physical, tough mentality. All that stuff is there.”

    Waiting game

    McVay and his wife Veronika Khomyn are expecting their first child this month, and McVay confirmed on Friday that if the baby boy is born on a game day he will leave to be by his wife’s side.

    “It hasn’t quite hit me yet. He’s active right now and it seems like he’s ready to come at any moment,” McVay said. “What a blessing that’ll be and what an amazing job my wife Veronika has done in terms of handling the pregnancy. She’s a stud.”

    Injury report

    Linebacker Ernest Jones (knee), right guard Joe Noteboom (groin) and defensive tackle Larrell Murchison (knee) are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

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    ​ Orange County Register