Despite having no shortage of firepower on offense, the Los Angeles Rams opted to use their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on wide receiver Tutu Atwell.
Head coach Sean McVay was adamant about bringing back an explosive element to the Rams roster and the speedster was seen as another promising talent that could develop into a potential weapon. Even if he was not expected to produce on offense right away, he was viewed as an obvious choice to handle return duties on special teams.
McVay even solidified this notion after declaring Atwell as their returner following Week 1. However, it was wide receiver Ben Skowronek that fielded every kick during the team’s 28-19 victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 7.
McVay chalked up Atwell’s decreased role to a combination of his inexperience and the team’s struggles with blocking, via Skyler Carlin of USA Today:
“We didn’t really get many opportunities in the punt return phase. I think the kick return – I don’t care who is returning yesterday, we didn’t block well at all. Whether it was Ben Skowronek or anybody else, we didn’t get a hat on a hat. We didn’t execute the fundamentals and the techniques that we work,” McVay said Monday. “Guys have to play better, in that phase in particular. Really, TuTu hadn’t had a whole lot of experience doing it in general. He’s a young player. That’s kind of where we’re at with it, but certainly the return game is not something that we feel great about where we’re at. We’re going to continue to work it.”
Atwell did not spend much time in the return game while he was at Louisville with just four punts for 84 yards. Even though McVay still had high hopes that he would be able to make a smooth transition at the next level, it clearly has not panned out given his hesitance to keep him in.
Atwell has taken seven punts and five kicks for a mere 139 yards so far this season. The lack of trust from McVay indicates that he may still have a ways to go before taking on full-time duties.
It was a rough day for special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis as the Lions pulled off a successful onside kick and fake punt attempt. The Rams did not fare much better in the return game as Skowronek totaled 70 yards on four kicks.
L.A. will need Atwell to do a better job of capitalizing on his opportunities if they hope to justify his status as a second-round pick.