There was plenty of speculation regarding the state of the Los Angeles Rams’ return game heading into the 2021 NFL season.
The Rams had selected wide receiver Tutu Atwell with their first choice in the 2021 NFL Draft in the second round. Aside from his skill set as a speedster on the outside, head coach Sean McVay had hopes that he would be a candidate to fill the void as their punt returner moving forward.
L.A. was not forced to experiment much with the return game during their 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears in the season opener. However, it appears they have an idea of how it will look moving forward.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp fielded the lone punt in Week 1. McVay says that will be Atwell’s job from here on out though, via Cameron DaSilva of USA Today:
“Tutu will be our punt returner. He’s a guy that in a normal circumstance and situation, you can expect to see him back there. There just was so many limited opportunities and because of the particular situation, that was why Cooper was back there,” he said.
“It was a safe situation. There wasn’t a return possibility for us right there so that’s what resulted in him being back there.”
McVay’s decision to have Kupp field the punt was nothing more than McVay simply taking precautions during a dominant win. From now on, Atwell will have his opportunities to show what he can do in the return game.
This is quite a change of heart from McVay, who was adamant about the job being up for grabs with any player on the active roster this offseason. It seems it was just part of his efforts to instill a sense of competition for the vacancy.
The onus will fall on Atwell to earn McVay’s trust at such a crucial position as Kupp has with his secure hands and solid decision-making. Otherwise, he could be forced to use the team’s No. 1 wideout in the return game more than he would like to.
L.A. already had one of the deepest receiving corps in the league with Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson leading the way. Meanwhile, the presence of DeSean Jackson gives the offense a veteran burner to help stretch the defense.
Punt return will be Atwell’s chance to not only put his playmaking skills on display but get even more comfortable doing it at the NFL level.