Receiving could put Rams’ Gurley in elite club
LOS ANGELES — Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers did it first in 1985.
Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams accomplished the feat 14 years later.
They are the only NFL running backs to rush for 1,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Now, Craig, Faulk and others are pleased to see Rams running back Todd Gurley catching more passes.
Gurley enters Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Coliseum with 362 yards rushing and 234 yards receiving.
The 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year’s rebound from a subpar 2016 season was not entirely unexpected. But Gurley’s emergence as a receiver under first-year coach Sean McVay has been something of a revelation.
“We just try to find ways to get players in good situations and try to put them in spots that kind of help bring out their strengths,” said McVay, who has turned what was the NFL’s worst offense into the highest-scoring unit.
Gurley caught 21 passes as rookie, 43 last season. The transition to an increased receiving role in McVay’s scheme has apparently not been difficult.
“I’ve done it so much in practice,” he said, “that it’s second nature in the game.”
Gurley’s rise as a receiving threat has coincided with second-year quarterback Jared Goff’s development. Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, has completed 78 passes this season, a team-high 20 to Gurley.
“It’s relieving when I get through my progression and see him wide open,” Goff said. “It’s like, ‘Ah, here we go, it’s an easy one.’ ”
Gurley’s evolution as a receiver has included several noteworthy receptions:
— In Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, he caught a swing pass to the left side and hurdled a defensive back en route to the end zone.
— In Week 3 against the 49ers, he caught a short pass on third and 10 and turned it into a 27-yard gain that kept alive a drive.
— Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, Gurley caught an 18-yard pass and turned it into a 53-yard scoring play.
“I saw him make a one-handed catch earlier this season,” Craig said. “I said, ‘Damn, this guy is amazing.’ They should have been doing this a long time ago.”
In coach Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense in the 1980s, Craig established the standard for pass-catching running backs.
Craig played fullback in college at Nebraska and caught only 16 passes.
But when he heard that Walsh was considering selecting him in the 1983 draft, he went to work.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to learn how to catch the ball,’ ” Craig said. “I was freaking out.”
Craig said he began catching 100 passes a day. After he was drafted, he reported to rookie camp and said quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett threw him 100 passes in double-day workouts.
“I only missed two,” he said. “One went over my head and one was too low.”
Craig, playing fullback, caught 48 passes as a rookie, 71 the next season. In 1985, he led all NFL players with 92 catches for 1,016 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns.
Craig noted that Arizona’s David Johnson, who has been sidelined because of a Week 1 wrist injury, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Gurley are capable of joining the 1,000-1,000 club.
“I was the first,” he said. “I want to see it grow.”
Gurley’s pass-catching ability and McVay’s knowledge about how to exploit talent has helped key the Rams’ run to a 3-1 record and first place in the NFC West.
“Those two things, when brought together, it can be dangerous,” Faulk said.
But can Gurley keep the pace?
McVay said that coaches and the training staff would monitor Gurley, who is averaging nearly 27 touches a game.
“Whether we tailor that back or not is going to be predicated on how he feels,” McVay said.