Rams' Stetson Bennett is getting back in form after improving mental health

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, left, Matthew Stafford, center, and Stetson Bennett warm up.

During the final rep of practice Tuesday, Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett dropped back and, under the watchful eye of coach Sean McVay, completed a long pass to a receiver.

It was only a developmental drill. Still, it was another step forward for Bennett, who has returned to the Rams after spending his rookie season on the NFL’s nonfootball injury/illness list.

“It’s been cool to get back,” Bennett said afterward, adding, “Great to get back to football. It’s what I love and so it’s been pretty sweet.”

Bennett, a two-time national champion at Georgia, declined to specify the reason for his season away from football, saying several times he preferred to keep it “in-house.”

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A reporter asked if it would be accurate to say it fell under improving his mental health.

“Yeah,” Bennett said, “I’d say that.”

Bennett’s future with the team remains to be determined but McVay said last week that Bennett “had a couple good days and it’s been good having him out here.”

The Rams selected Bennett in the fourth round of last year's draft to serve as Matthew Stafford’s backup and, possibly, his successor.

Bennett showed positive signs during the first two preseason games but struggled in the preseason finale at Denver. Before the season opener, he was put on the nonfootball injury/illness list because of an unspecified issue, and McVay remained vague about Bennett’s situation all season.

Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs from Chargers linebacker Brevin Allen (90) in a preseason game.

At midseason, the Rams cut veteran Brett Rypien after he played poorly in place of Stafford during a loss at Green Bay. The Rams signed veteran Carson Wentz, and Stafford returned to lead the Rams to a 10-7 record and a playoff appearance.

But the Rams’ need for a capable backup remained pressing, especially as they prepared for a season in which they will be regarded as a possible Super Bowl contender.

Stafford, 36, has two years left on the extension he signed after leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. The 15-year veteran is pressing for guaranteed salary beyond this season, however, an issue that came to light during the draft, and one that McVay has acknowledged the Rams are attempting to work through.

In March the Rams signed Jimmy Garoppolo, a proven veteran who has won regular-season and playoff games. Garoppolo is suspended for the first two games, however — against the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals — for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy while playing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

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So Bennett’s ability to step in for Stafford early in the season could be more important than last season.

On Tuesday, Stafford and Garoppolo took reps during full-squad drills, with Bennett and Dresser Winn getting most of the work during individual periods.

Bennett is in “a good place” Rams offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said.

“He’s come to work every single day focused, with the intent of getting better, and that’s all you can ask these guys,” LaFleur said. “If their intent is right, which Stet’s is right now, that’s all you can ask, and it’s definitely showing.”

Bennett, 26, said he was nervous last week during his first day of practice.

“Hadn’t played football in a while and hadn’t talked to dudes in a huddle,” he said, adding, “A lot of nerves the first day, but it’s gone, I wouldn’t say seamlessly, but it’s gotten better each day just like you try to make it.”

Bennett, a Georgia native, said his time spent at home was valuable and he was thankful that general manager Les Snead and McVay “and everybody involved” allowed him to leave and now return.

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The time away, he said, reinforced that he loved football.

“You get to kind of see the world for the first time without football — like the first time ever and what that might be like,” he said, adding, “It did make me, like, ‘Hey, this is, you want to do this and you want to work hard every single day and get better. It was different without it.‘ ”

How did he know he was ready to return?

“I’d say that one’s probably ‘piss or get off the pot,’” he said. “You kind of had to get back at some point.”

Now he is happy to be back, and playing the game he said he always has loved.

“I saw it for I think how I’ve always seen it,” he said of how he viewed football during his time away, “just a beautiful game, create relationships with your teammates, and then you go and you compete against the best and find out if you can, which I’m excited to get back to doing.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.