Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson could undergo knee procedure this week
During his rookie season, receiver Ben Skowronek was on the field with receiver Van Jefferson for key moments during the Rams’ run to a Super Bowl title.
Now Skowronek might replace Jefferson — at least at the outset of the season.
Jefferson, who was coming back from offseason knee surgery and has been absent from practice for two days, could undergo another knee procedure early this week, two people with knowledge of the situation said Sunday, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The Rams were counting on a starting receiver corps that included reigning NFL offensive player of the year Cooper Kupp, new addition Allen Robinson and Jefferson, a third-year pro who caught 50 passes last season, six for touchdowns.
But if Jefferson undergoes a relatively minor procedure, he probably would be sidelined at least for the Sept. 8 opener against the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.
On Saturday, after Jefferson was absent from practice, Rams coach Sean McVay declined to provide details about Jefferson’s situation. McVay was not scheduled to speak with reporters on Sunday, and the team did not make him available to address Jefferson’s status.
Offensive coordinator Liam Coen did not provide details about Jefferson’s situation but said it presented opportunity for other players — and for coaches — to step up.
“A great opportunity for us to get creative in different ways that we can put guys in different positions to help our offense,” Coen said.
Skowronek, 6 feet 3 inches and 224 pounds, is accustomed to seizing opportunity.
After playing parts of four seasons at Northwestern, he transferred to Notre Dame. In nine games, he caught five touchdown passes and averaged 15 yards per catch.
The Rams selected Skowronek in the seventh round of the 2021 draft, with the 249th pick. He initially was projected as a special-teams contributor and potential fifth or sixth receiver in a corps that included Kupp, Jefferson, Robert Woods, Desean Jackson and second-round pick Tutu Atwell.
Then Jackson, unhappy with his role, was released after eight games. Atwell appeared overwhelmed by playing receiver in the NFL and returned kicks for eight games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Woods suffered a season-ending knee injury with eight regular-season games remaining.
Despite the signing of Odell Beckham Jr., Skowronek carved out a role with his speed, strength and versatility. He caught 11 passes for 133 yards in the last 10 games.
After Sunday’s practice, he said he welcomed more opportunities.
“I’m really looking forward to getting these reps with [quarterback] Matthew [Stafford], the first-team offense, stuff like that,” he said. “Just getting comfortable each and every day.”
Skowronek, 25, said he learned from miscues and mishaps during a rookie season in which he played four receiver positions and special teams.
In the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Skowronek dropped what would have been a 38-yard touchdown pass.
After Beckham suffered a second-quarter knee injury in the Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, McVay and receivers coach Eric Yarber called upon Skowronek. Early in the third quarter, a pass bounced off Skowronek’s left hand and into the arms of Bengals defensive back Chidobe Awuzie for an interception.
“Being thrown into the fire, whether it’s playoff games, especially the Super Bowl, at positions I might not have practiced throughout the year, I think it’s going to be great for me to look back at that and be able to see how I grew,” Skowronek said. “Adversity builds character.”
Coaches and teammates have said that the 5-9, 165-pound Atwell has made strides, but going into training camp, Skowronek’s play last season eventually made him the fourth receiver behind Kupp, Robinson and Jefferson.
Yarber this week described Skowronek as his “Swiss Army knife” of the receiving corps.
“His strength is his speed and his physicalness — that’s his access,” Yarber said. “That’s the way he should play. No finesse, but speed and confidence.
“Finesse will be his changeup.”
Skowronek studied and learned from Kupp, Woods, Jefferson and Beckham last season, and from Robinson during offseason workouts and training camp.
Yet he will not try to be somebody other than himself, he said.
“I’m someone who got drafted 249, you know, nothing given to me,” he said. “I had to beat out a lot of guys throughout camp last year to even make the team.
“So I love adversity, it’s something that motivates me. I love when people count me out.”
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