- Jun 28, 2010
- Burger man
After catching nothing but criticism as a second-round draft pick, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound wide receiver says he wants to “prove everybody wrong.”
THOUSAND OAKS — Tutu Atwell rededicated his mind and body to football this offseason after the Rams’ top draft pick in 2021 had a disappointing, injury-shortened rookie year.
Part of Atwell’s program, prescribed by team trainers to strengthen his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame, involves drinking milkshakes, lots of milkshakes.
“Strawberry-banana, always,” he said when asked his flavor. “Just strawberry-banana, nothin’ else.”
Blending in some hard work and self-sacrifice, Atwell might have the ingredients for a second-season surprise.
The one-time ACC-leading wide receiver from Louisville was a surprise second-round pick by Rams general manager Les Snead and Coach Sean McVay. They saw his 4.41-second 40-yard speed as a weapon for the receiving corps and the punt and kick return teams. Others saw bigger needs, or at least bigger pass-catchers.
The doubters got the first laugh. Atwell was set back in training camp by COVID-19 and a back injury. He played only 10 offensive snaps, recording no receptions, and returned 15 punts and kickoffs, breaking no run longer than 25 yards, before shoulder surgery sent him to season-ending injured reserve in November.
Before the final injury, McVay called out Atwell for showing an insufficient “sense of urgency.”
Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber lectured him about work habits.
“Last year, he thought he knew but he really didn’t,” Yarber said. “So you’ve got to press on him: ‘Hey, this is how you prepare. You’ve got to prepare like a pro. This is your livelihood. This is not you going to class and then going out there and using your athletic ability.’”
Atwell heard the criticism from inside and outside the Rams’ fold.
“Of course it pops into my phone,” Atwell said Thursday after the last practice session of the Rams’ organized team activities. “I’m the type of guy, I use it for motivation. I don’t let it get to me. People can say what they want to say.”
Now he’s ready to get the last laugh.
“At the end of the day, I’m here, I’m on the team. Coach McVay and Les chose me for a reason. They see what I can do,” Atwell said. “I’m going to prove everybody wrong.”
Coaches and teammates say the littlest Rams is making big strides.
“It’s night and day,” Yarber said. “He’s progressing very, very well mentally and physically. The game has slowed down for him. He knows his plays like the back of his hand.”
Yarber said one reason is Atwell has latched onto fellow receiver Cooper Kupp, trying to follow the example of the NFL’s 2021 Offensive Player of the Year on the practice field and in meeting rooms.
“It’s almost like he took things for granted (last year),” Yarber said of Atwell. “But now, he saw how Cooper and Robert Woods prepared and how it translated to on-the-field (success).
“I was going to suggest he do that anyway, but he did it before I even suggested it. That says a lot about how he’s serious about this and he wants to be a good pro.”
Kupp said Atwell has been beside him in the weight room since players began coming back after winning the Super Bowl in February.
“I think he’d be the first to tell you last season wasn’t what he wanted his rookie season to be,” Kupp said. “I think he’ll come out here and do some good things in year two and let it all hang out, and let his game kind of speak for itself. He’s a special player. He can do some pretty incredible things on the football field. I’m excited about seeing him out here and seeing those things come to life.
“He’s been working very hard, building himself up and studying the playbook, all the stuff he needs to do to make sure that when he steps on the field, he can just play the game.”
The question remains whether a player his size can survive in the NFL, let alone thrive. The fact his first season ended with an injury says no. But it’s worth remembering he’s only one of five Rams draft picks who went on IR last year.
Yarber notes that when Atwell gets hit, he tends to get knocked sideways, so tacklers don’t fall on him.
“He is a little guy,” Yarber said. “But his limbs are long, so he can play bigger than his 5-9, 5-10 stature. He can’t do anything about his size. What you want to do is get his body strong so he can play bigger than he really is.”
As the Rams go into minicamp next week and training camp in late July, Atwell has to work his way up on a depth chart headed by Kupp, Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek at wide receiver and Brandon Powell on the return team.
Yarber said he expects Atwell to contribute to the passing game and special teams.
Atwell sees himself doing all that and running jet sweeps on offense.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy where I’m at,” Atwell said. “We’re a team. I want to see everybody win. Whether I’m first on the depth chart or last on the depth chart, I don’t care.
“My time will come. And when my time comes, I’m going to show everybody why I got picked in the second round.”