St. Louis Rams fans haven’t had a lot to root for this year.
Their team is 3-3, the offense is 31st in the NFL, and the franchise is the favorite to bolt to the Los Angeles area after the season.
But one thing has been bringing the crowd to a full boil recently – rookie running back Todd Gurley.
“I actually had to quiet them down a little bit when the offense had the ball because they were chanting, ‘Gurley,’ and it’s hard for us to communicate,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said this week ahead of Sunday’s game against the 49ers in St. Louis.
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When Gurley, 21, ran for 128 yards in last Sunday’s win over the Browns, he became the first rookie running back to rush for 125 yards or more in his first three starts since Cadillac Williams in 2005.
Gurley is 12th in the league in rushing yards, which isn’t that impressive until you realize he’s only a month into his career and is coming back from an ACL tear Nov. 15, 2014, while playing for Georgia. The Rams drafted him 10th overall.
I actually had to quiet (the fans) down a little bit when the offense had the ball because they were chanting, ‘Gurley,’ and it’s hard for us to communicate.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher on rookie running back Todd Gurley
What should scare coaches and general managers in the NFC West is Gurley probably isn’t fully recovered from his injury. But he’s close.
“When you (see him) make a run like last week where he hurdled a guy, you really feel good about how confident he is with his legs now,” Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It’s exciting. What a weapon to have, especially when you have a lead going into the second half, especially the fourth quarter. You have a closer, a guy who can get it done.”
Fisher said he didn’t think Gurley was 100 percent yet.
“Because I think it takes time, as you guys witnessed with Frank Gore,” Fisher said. “But he’s pretty close to it. And if he’s less than 100 percent – whatever percent he’s at right now – it’s pretty impressive.”
Gore, who suffered two ACL tears in college, is the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher. Now with the Colts, he’s in his 11th season and hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2010.
128 Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley’s rushing yards last week
For the last eight seasons, one of the hallmarks of the 49ers’ defense is that it was very good against the run. But without longtime stalwarts Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, and with NaVorro Bowman still coming back from his own knee injury, the team has struggled in that area this season, ranking 20th.
When Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch scored on a one-yard run on Oct. 22, it was the seventh rushing touchdown the 49ers have allowed this year. Only four teams have given up more.
In describing Gurley, 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini conjured up a lot of the same imagery often used in relation to Lynch.
“He runs with a good pad level, and he’s thick through the hole, he’s got a good stiff-arm, all those things,” Mangini said.
But he stopped short of saying the 49ers now will have two Marshawn Lynches to deal with in the division.
“I’ve never been huge on comparisons,” he said. “(Gurley) is his own set of problems, and they do a nice job too of using him. ... For a young guy, he’s doing it well.”
San Francisco inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite also resisted comparing Gurley to Lynch. Instead, he went with a name sure to spark applause from Rams fans, at least the ones who followed the Los Angeles version of the team in the 1980s.
“I’d say (he’s) like an Eric Dickerson type,” Wilhoite said. “ ... He’s going to give you that one cut, he’s going to use his speed, and he’s going to stiff-arm you to get away from you.”