THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)Puka Nacua is still getting used to the punishment he’ll have to absorb to be an NFL receiver. The Los Angeles Rams rookie missed practice with an oblique injury Thursday, four days after taking several shots to the ribs in his debut game.
“In college, they definitely weren’t hitting like that,” a grinning Nacua said a day earlier, padding still stuck to his ribs after practice.
Nearly everything about Nacua’s first outing for the Rams was a major hit.
Nacua caught 10 passes for 119 yards in the Rams’ surprising 30-13 victory at Seattle last Sunday, immediately seizing an integral role in Los Angeles’ offense. Matthew Stafford showed confidence in the rookie fifth-round pick, targeting Nacua a whopping 15 times while the Rams’ offense dominated the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
The quick success wasn’t a surprise to the Rams, who have been talking up Nacua’s talent and intelligence since shortly after they grabbed him as the 20th receiver chosen in the draft. Nacua played two collegiate seasons at Washington and two more at BYU.
“His understanding of the game comes really natural to him,” Stafford said.
Nacua tied with Miami’s Tyreek Hill for the most targets in the NFL in Week 1, and only Hill (11) had more catches. It’s a high level of production to maintain, but the Rams are used to giving extensive work to one receiver: Cooper Kupp, the prolific Super Bowl MVP and triple crown of receiving winner.
Kupp is out for at least three more games on injured reserve after straining his hamstring early in training camp. His absence created an opportunity for Nacua and for seldom-used Tutu Atwell, and both wideouts seized it with a pair of 119-yard performances at Seattle.
Nacua calls Kupp “the man, the legend,” while praising the veteran’s willingness to share tips and tendencies with the younger wideouts.
“Because of the thousands of reps that he’s gotten with Matthew, he can probably tell us how to run these routes with his eyes closed,” Nacua said Wednesday. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, Matthew is expecting you to be here.’ So I’m trying to get that from him.”
Atwell spent the past two years in coach Sean McVay’s offense, but Nacua is still only a few months into his tenure. That made his debut even more impressive – and drew even more attention to Nacua, who is also learning how to handle his sudden rise in fame while fantasy football players across the nation rushed to acquire him this week.
Nacua said he still hasn’t plowed through all the messages left on his phone and social media after the game.
“I deleted Twitter and Instagram before the game so I wouldn’t have them until after the game,” Nacua said. “That was a mistake, because I could have got on the front side of it all. But it’s still a blessing.”
The best part of Nacua’s Sunday came when he FaceTimed his mother and six siblings along with their families. Some of his siblings were in Southern California celebrating a niece’s birthday with an outing to an amusement park.
“There was a lot of screaming, a lot of excitement,” Nacua said. “I don’t even know if I really said any words. They said they were all wearing their jerseys at the little adventure park they went to, and everybody just kept coming up to them after the game.”
Nacua is just the fifth receiver in NFL history to have at least 10 catches in his debut. He could make history Sunday against San Francisco: No player drafted in the fifth round or later has made more than 14 catches in his first two NFL games, and the NFL record for any player’s first two games is 19 receptions.
Nacua got hit early and often by the Seahawks, but he’s also an eager blocker who admits he still has some situational awareness to acquire. He smiled again at the memory of a run play in which he lost track of a Seattle defensive lineman.
“I thought for the most part I had my head on a swivel for the game, but he caught me off guard and put me right on my butt,” Nacua said. “I’ve always got to make sure I’m aware of everybody, whether it’s a D-lineman, safety or linebacker. Everybody has a chance to hit you.”
NOTES: RG Joseph Noteboom (ankle) was a full participant in practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday. … CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hip) has participated fully in both practices this week.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL