LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Sean McVay joked on a long-distance catchup with some familiar voices there were more Washington media members left than players or coaches from his time there.
It's more reality than a joke.
When McVay coaches the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in his first visit to FedEx Field since leaving and taking them to the Super Bowl, Washington will have just five players in uniform and one assistant coach on the opposite sideline remaining from his tenure. McVay spent seven seasons as a Washington assistant, including his role as offensive coordinator from 2014-16, but this isn't the kind of emotional return he might have expected.
“When I look at the roster and I look at the coaching staff, there’s a very small number of people that I still recognize,” McVay said. “Especially without the fans, it doesn’t feel like much of a homecoming to me.”
Like San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, McVay is still a success story emerging from a dysfunctional organization and taking a new team to the Super Bowl. Also impressively, McVay’s Rams have bounced back from missing the playoffs last year to open 3-1 in a tough NFC West.
Another former Washington assistant deserves a slice of credit for that. Kevin O'Connell is in his first season as offensive coordinator after getting just one year in that role with Washington following two as quarterbacks coach, and has helped Jared Goff get off to a strong start.
McVay said O'Connell is “instrumental” in what Goff has done so far: completed 88 of 122 passes for 1,063 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He’s definitely demanding of a lot, which I love, and keeps the high standard for me,” said Goff, whose completion rate of 72.1 percent ranks fourth in the NFL. “At the same time, he’s able to keep it light and we’re able to joke around and have fun.”
The QB situation isn't so rosy for Washington (1-3). First-year coach Ron Rivera benched 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins this week in favor of Kyle Allen, who knows offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system better from his time in Carolina.
“We’ll see what happens with Kyle,” Rivera said. “He’s had some success, but it’s been limited. He’s won seven games for me in the past. But that’s the past. We’ll see what he does this week, and we’ll go from there."
Allen will be the eighth different Washington QB to start a game since McVay left, joining Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Case Keenum and Haskins.
Those left from McVay's time in Washington? Just running backs coach Randy Jordan, right tackle Morgan Moses and injured right guard Brandon Scherff from the offense.
Moses, defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and the three specialists — kicker Dustin Hopkins, punter Tress Way and long snapper Nick Sundberg — will be the only players on the field Sunday who have been around since at least 2016. Scherff remains out with a right knee injury, and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis is out for the season with a torn biceps tendon.
SCORES OF SILENCE
McVay thinks the league’s record scoring output of 51.3 points a game through four weeks can be credited to a lack of crowd noise, allowing offenses to communicate when they might normally be limited to hand signals and silent snap counts.
“It’s probably louder with the speakers at practice than it is in the actual games,” offensive lineman David Edwards said. “I really feel like our edge and our advantage on offense is our tempo and the way we challenge people with our cadence so being able to communicate with that, and not having fans is huge.”
The Rams have certainly taken advantage of those favorable conditions, scoring 69 points in their first two road games, and they'll get another quiet environment at Washington. Fans continue to be banned from FedEx Field because of state regulations.
ALEX SMITH NEXT UP
With Allen taking over as Washington's starter and Haskins demoted to No. 3 on the depth chart, Alex Smith will dress in a game for the first time since breaking his right tibia and fibula in gruesome fashion on Nov. 18, 2018. Rivera is confident with the possibility of Smith playing because doctors cleared him and despite the fact the 36-year-old hasn't taken any contact in practice as preparation for a game.
The Rams are prepared if they see Smith, even if they'll be admiring his comeback.
“To overcome some of the things that he’s overcome to put himself in a position to just be able to have full utilization of that leg, let alone be playing NFL football, all I can really say is, ‘Wow,’" McVay said. "The respect I have for this guy is through the roof. I don’t know him personally, but everybody that I respect and that I really hold their opinion in high regard just loves this guy and can’t say enough good things about him.”
Aaron Donald will put a fright into opposing offenses any time of the year, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is especially good in October. He has 19 1/2 sacks, 34 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles in 24 career October games, and Donald will be looking to build on a superb start to the 2020 season.
With 3 1/2 sacks through four games, Donald is tied with Kansas City’s Chris Jones and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks for the league lead among defensive tackles and tied for fourth overall.
“The thing about Aaron Donald is he's special, and you’ve got to be able to account for him,” Rivera said. “You have to account for wherever he is.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Thousand Oaks, California, contributed.
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