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Young Rams Players Williams and Nacua Embrace the Noise in Practice as They Prep for Playoff Debuts

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — If Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua had any doubts about the atmosphere they’ll face in Detroit in their first NFL playoff games, they’ve literally heard all about it in practice this week.

The Rams have cranked up the speakers on the fields at their training complex to near-deafening levels in an attempt to mimic the aural obstacles Los Angeles’ offense will face Sunday night at Ford Field, where Detroit fans will be celebrating the end of the Lions’ 30-year playoff home game drought.

“When we’re at practice, the music is as loud as it can be,” Williams said Thursday. “You can’t even hear yourself think, really. It might be kind of overboard, but I’d rather it be overboard than not enough. We’ve been practicing all week with the loud noise.”

Williams and Nacua are getting their playoff debuts as one reward for their impressive breakout seasons with the Los Angeles Rams (10-7), who have surged into the postseason with seven wins in eight games built largely on their young players.

Williams was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection after finishing third in the league with 1,144 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns despite missing five games. He’ll be joined in Orlando by Nacua, the most prolific rookie receiver in NFL history after catching 105 passes for 1,486 yards and six TDs.

But for everything they’ve accomplished this season, they’ve had very few tastes of high-stakes postseason football tension. Williams’ only bowl experience in three years at Notre Dame was in the Irish’s loss to Alabama in the displaced Rose Bowl held in Texas in 2021, while Nacua played in one minor bowl in four collegiate seasons.

“It’s definitely about sticking to the process,” Nacua said. “We’re here in Week 97, it feels like, and just trying to continue to keep doing the same things we feel like we’ve been good at for the past couple of weeks, which is being a physical team in the run game and then taking advantage of the opportunities we get in the passing game.”

Williams and Nacua are only the two most prominent members of a large class of playoff debutantes for the Rams, who had one of the NFL’s youngest rosters all season long. Much of the Rams’ secondary will be making its playoff debut, and inexperience stretches across the roster.

Although the Rams won the Super Bowl just two years ago, that’s an eternity for rosters in the modern NFL — and particularly for a franchise that held a cap-clearing talent purge in the past offseason after finishing a miserable 5-12 in their title defense season. Just 18 players remain on the active roster from that title team, and less than a dozen played a significant role in the 2021-22 playoff run.

Coach Sean McVay said he consciously isn’t making a big deal out of the first playoff experience for a large chunk of his group. The Rams usually ranked second or third in the league in roster youth this season, and the team struggled into the bye week before roaring into the playoff picture.

“I think you acknowledge that it’s a great opportunity, but I think we want to be consistent in our approach,” McVay said. “A lot of the things this team has done so well … from the bye on, it’s like, ‘Hey guys, let’s continue to trust the process, continue to trust one another.’ I don’t think you want to press. You know the atmosphere and environment is going to be outstanding, but I don’t think you want to get too far outside the framework of the things that allowed us to be in this position.”

McVay has made one concession to the importance of the moment: The Rams are prominently displaying their Lombardi Trophy from two years ago in their locker room, accompanied by a handwritten sign reading: “Whatever it takes!”

“Seeing that trophy every day is a reminder that it’s possible,” Williams said. “If we keep working as a team, as a unit, we’ll be right where we want to be when it’s time to be there.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL

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