THOUSAND OAKS (AP) — Jared Goff knows what to expect Thursday.
The Los Angeles Rams quarterback played at Levi’s Stadium in college against future San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Goff also faced fellow first-round picks Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas during his college career. And the former California star isn’t caught up in his return to the Bay Area and another chance to play in front of familiar faces.
“I’ve played in front of my friends and family for so long now that it’s more normal than it is not,” Goff said. “But it will be fun to be back there.”
Goff was inactive for the Rams’ season-opening visit to Santa Clara last year. He returns as a different player altogether.
Goff has his first NFL win under his belt, and a good grasp of an offense that plays to his strengths. He looks more like the record-setting Golden Bear than the scared rookie, moving more naturally in the pocket and featuring all of his pass-catching options.
Eight different Rams caught passes from Goff in a 27-20 loss to Washington last weekend, and he found seven different targets in a season-opening opening rout of Indianapolis. Coach Sean McVay’s offense uses West Coast principles, and spreading the ball always has been an important component of such systems.
“You don’t really have one guy that goes for 120 catches usually, I don’t think, in this offense,” Goff said. “I think the guys have been extremely unselfish and extremely disciplined in what they doing. As long as they continue to get open, I’ll do my best to get them the ball.”
Perhaps the best example of that commitment came on a 69-yard pass to tight end Gerald Everett in the second quarter against Washington. Instead of checking the ball down to running back Todd Gurley after rolling to his right, Goff kept his eyes upfield and found Everett for the long catch-and-run. It was another sign of Goff’s development.
Wide receiver Robert Woods, who joined the Rams as a free agent in March, said he has seen dramatic improvement in Goff after just a few months.
“The biggest thing that he’s grown in is just his confidence I would say,” Woods said. “You see how he stands in the pocket, delivers the ball. When he’s confident, I think this team is very confident.”
That attitude, Woods said, is most evident in the classroom. Goff can now relay to McVay, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson why he is making an audible or throwing a ball against a certain defense.
“If a quarterback knows why, he’s doing something,” Woods said. “That’s a big advantage.”
Goff will have to rely on all those traits against a 49ers team that has invested heavily in its defensive front. Armstead, Buckner and Thomas all have the ability to frustrate a quarterback in ways beyond collapsing the pocket.
“They do get their hands up and have the ability to knock passes down,” Goff said. “It does make it difficult at times. It’s something we got to be aware of, but at the same time we’re going to treat them like any other defense and do our thing.”
For Goff, picking up his first road win and division win at the same time is more important than the chance to play on familiar ground.
“It will be big. It will be cool,” Goff said. “But, at the same time, it’s just like any other game. Try and go out there and do the best I can to hopefully get a win.”