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Sean McVay, Rams appreciate Brandon Staley’s lasting influence

THOUSAND OAKS — Brandon Staley spent only one season with the Rams before becoming the head coach of the Chargers, but his short stint as the defensive coordinator in 2020 left a lasting influence.

The Rams kept Staley’s defensive philosophy and used it as a foundation for what Raheem Morris has built as the defensive coordinator the past two seasons. Staley’s arrival in one season turned the Rams into the best defense in points and yards allowed, and Morris took it a step further by helping the Rams win the Super Bowl the following season.

“Brandon had a way to get guys to buy in and embody his defense in a short period of time,” Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. “They bought into that system very quickly.”

Results didn’t come quickly for Staley with the Chargers, but he got his team into the playoffs in his second season and his defense is starting to peak ahead of Sunday’s reunion game with the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

The Chargers’ defense held the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts under 17 points during their three-game winning streak, and that was mostly without star defenders Derwin James and Joey Bosa.

James returned from injury against the Colts, but exited early to be evaluated for a concussion. James practiced Thursday and might be available to play against the Baker Mayfield-led Rams. Bosa, who hasn’t played since Week 3, returned to practice Thursday after he was designated for return from injured reserve.

The Chargers’ defense stayed afloat amid injuries with edge rushers Khalil Mack and Kyle Van Noy and with many inexperienced players stepping up in the past month.

“I’ve seen a great job being able to do different things based on how they want to slow down the opponent,” McVay said about Staley’s surging defense. “There’s enough versatility where they’ve got a core foundation of things that they want to be able to do, but then also enough complementary mixers, and then whatever they think is in the best interests situationally, whether it be on the rundowns, pass downs, third downs in the red area, where they can kind of change it up based on how they want to try to stop whatever the given opponent is and what they deem to be really dangerous.

“But the versatility in the personnel groups, the ability to be able to move some of those joker-type players around, I think Brandon does an excellent job of that, just like he did with us. And then you can see some similar principles, but then also the evolution that he’s had over the last couple years to fit it to what they’re doing with the Chargers.”

McVay is well aware of Staley’s knack for calling a variety of defensive groupings to confuse opposing quarterbacks. That’s what made Staley stand out when McVay interviewed him for the defensive coordinator position nearly three years ago.

Staley worked under defensive guru Vic Fangio with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. McVay was interested in the Fangio two-high defense, but Staley’s version of the system is what made him the ideal candidate to become the Rams’ defensive coordinator.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” McVay said about Staley becoming the Chargers’ head coach. “He had a drive and a motivation and a love and a passion for the game that’s as strong as anybody that I’ve been around and so tremendous respect. I think what he was able to do where you come right in, you have a huge influence on a lot of really great things that went on defensively. … After we had lost that Divisional Round to the (Green Bay) Packers and you get a chance where if a team’s open-minded when they’re interviewing, I thought there was a good chance that he would get a job, and it worked out that he didn’t have to move too far.”

Staley will get to reunite Sunday with Rams defenders Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill, Greg Gaines and many other players who were around for Staley’s quick turnaround in 2020.

Hill said Staley taught him how to spot the subtle weaknesses within their defense and how to account for them.

“He taught me how to play a defense, not just a position,” Hill said. “Be aware of other things. … He was a football guy. He was all about ball. He got his respect from that. Just loving the game and building relationships.”

McVay, Mayfield and the rest of the Rams’ offense will have to worry about the Chargers’ surging defense, but they might have the advantage because they’re familiar with Staley’s scheme. Last week, the Rams got the best of Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who coached with the Rams from 2017 to 2021.

Staley praised McVay for constantly adjusting his offensive scheme to fit his players’ strengths, which he’s done since Mayfield took over as the Rams’ starting quarterback earlier this month.

“The same challenge that it was every day in practice, which was you gotta approach every day with the highest amount of purpose,” Staley said about facing McVay’s offense on New Year’s Day. “He’s as good of a coach as there is in the league and you know he’s going to have a tremendous game plan for his guys.”

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Morris said he appreciates what Staley was able to do in one season and he’s enjoyed building off what he started with the Rams.

“I got so much respect for what Brandon did when he got here and to be able to come in here and learn the language of the other 50 people as opposed to making people learn some other language,” Morris said.

Staley took his time to respond after being asked what was the biggest lesson he learned from McVay during their one season together.

“Every day something big was happening in football,” Staley said. “Whether it was teaching, meeting, scheme, personnel, it felt like we were doing something that was helping us win. It was something that was making us better and we were always thinking that way together.”

 

 

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