Rams’ Taylor Rapp ready to build on highs and lows of rookie year

THOUSAND OAKS — It was his worst moment. It was his finest hour.

It’s one of the memories from Taylor Rapp’s rookie year that make the Rams so happy to have him fit and ready for the start of his second year, a status confirmed this week with his return to practice after a knee problem.

Late in the 2019 season, the safety made a glaring mistake in coverage that let the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Emmanuel Sanders connect on a 46-yard third-down pass, setting up the field goal that ended the Rams’ playoff hopes.

A player can try to forget an error like that. A player can try to remember and grow from it. Rapp, who was a day short of his 22nd birthday, set out to do both.

“Obviously, that’s not how anyone wants to end a game,” Rapp said Wednesday in a short video conference with reporters. “I definitely could have played better technique and stuff like that.

“It is what it is. It happened. You can’t worry about (what’s) in the past. You can just use it as fuel going forward to motivate you, (so you) don’t let it happen again.”

Rapp’s first reaction that night was to stand up to questions in the locker room and take responsibility for his mistake — biting on a 49er receiver’s short route and failing to help cornerback Jalen Ramsey cover Sanders deep. That impressed Eric Weddle, the now-retired fellow safety who praised Rapp’s character the next day. It also impressed Rams coach Sean McVay, who praised Rapp on Wednesday.

“For you to be able to have the strength and being vulnerable and having that extreme ownership, that’s something we want all of our players to embody,” McVay said in a Zoom chat with reporters, saying great players turn a setback into “a learning opportunity.”

“That’s exactly what Taylor does. I loved his response.”

A week after his screwup in Santa Clara, Rapp intercepted a pass from the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray 30 yards downfield after having earlier recovered a Murray fumble in the backfield.

That performance at the Coliseum capped a rookie season in which the second-round draft pick from Washington took over as a starter from the injured John Johnson in October and was second on the Rams in tackles behind Cory Littleton over the last 10 games.

His solid debut made him a sure thing to replace Weddle and start beside Johnson this season in a safety tandem that Johnson says can be the best in the league.

Rapp missed more than two weeks of training camp with a minor knee injury, but returned to practice Tuesday and Wednesday, wearing a compression sleeve on his left leg.

Saying Rapp is fit for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium might be an understatement.

In May, Rapp conquered a “10,000 calorie challenge,” theoretically burning that many calories in one day by biking 125 miles, swimming 1.25, hiking 4, running 3 and mixing in a “short workout.”

He said the endurance test was inspired by his older brother Austin, a cyclist.

“Obviously it involves a lot of mental toughness,” Rapp said. “I wanted to test my mental toughness and see if I could push through it. It definitely correlates to playing in a game. Or life, really.”

It had to be asked: Might all of that exertion have caused the knee problem?

He said no.

While frustrated that he couldn’t practice, Rapp made sure he didn’t fall too far behind in learning the defensive scheme of new Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.

“Taylor’s really smart, he loves football, he’s instinctual, he’s stayed engaged in the meetings, he’s been involved on the field at practice,” McVay said in August, when the coach still worried that Rapp might not be ready for the opener.

“That was one of the reasons why you love him so much coming out of Washington, is the instincts, the football acumen and all that stuff.”

Including the stuff about growing from mistakes.

Notes

Rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday and was having tests on a knee, McVay said. Lewis, a third-round draft pick from Alabama, has been in line to back up Leonard Floyd at the beginning of the season, while Samson Ebukam starts on the opposite edge. Other outside linebackers on the roster are Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Natrez Patrick, Jachai Polite, Justin Lawler and Greg Reaves. …

Gerald Everett said he looks forward to “more extended roles” for himself, Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt and rookie Brycen Hopkins with more two tight end sets in 2020. Everett, whose four-year rookie contract expires after this season, said he’s not dwelling on the prospect of an extension. “You know, we started off as kids playing this game for free, and as we’ve been blessed to keep playing over college and professionally now,” he said. “Everything will happen when it’s time.” …

Everett cleared up the meaning of a July 16 tweet saying he was “waiting on a decision that’s already been made.” Some took it to refer to the Rams’ plans for his future, but he said Tuesday it was about whether the NFL would have a season: “Everyone was waiting around to see if the season was going to happen, but with the resources that the NFL has, I feel like the answer was already made.”