Neuheisel: Underestimating Rams QB Wolford would be ‘very big mistake’
The Arizona Cardinals take on the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday in what is technically the final contest of the 2020 regular season, but might as well be considered as a postseason play-in game.
That’s because the winner of the Cardinals-Rams Week 17 matchup will do just that: Make the playoffs, while the loser packs it in for the offseason along with the other 17 non-qualifiers.
But while a divisional matchup usually means familiarity, there will be at least one new face playing a major role in Rams quarterback John Wolford, who will be starting in place of Jared Goff after the former Cal Bear had surgery to repair an injured thumb on Monday night.
Wolford went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2018 and spent training camp with the New York Jets before being cut prior to the start of the season.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the signal-caller for the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF in spring 2019 until the league folded due to bankruptcy.
“He’s the kind of guy that comes up to you and says, ‘OK, coach, here is what they are doing. Here is what we should do.’ I can’t tell you how often he was right,” former Hotshots head coach Rick Neuheisel told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday.
“The guy just sees the game in slow motion. And because of it — he doesn’t look anywhere NFL-ish in physical stature — but his arm strength and his accuracy, coupled with his mental [IQ] for the game, make him very dangerous. I think that underestimating him would be a very big mistake.”
In eight games, the 6-foot-1 QB managed to accumulate 1,617 yards, a 63.4% completion percentage (130-of-206) and 14 touchdown passes, the latter of which is the most in league history.
However, Wolford is no stranger to the elaborate offensive playbook of Rams head coach Sean McVay, as the 2017 Second-team All-ACC selection is in his second season in Los Angeles.
“My only concern for Wolford in this spot is that others will spoon-feed him thinking that he hasn’t been in there,” Neuheisel said. “Even though he hasn’t played for the Rams, I guarantee he knows the offense inside and out.”
“I really think that with the people around him and the coaching staff are probably more nervous than John is. I think that John is the kind of guy that says, ‘OK, I’ve been waiting for this chance, I’m going to let it fly.'”
Neuheisel — who graduated from McClintock High School in Tempe — spoke about the unique situation he finds himself in, as his hometown team gets set to face his former quarterback in what is essentially a playoff game.
“It doesn’t make me not a Cardinals fan … I just have immense confidence in John Wolford,” he said. “The guy is a diligent learner, he’s very perceptive to what’s going on within a defense.
“I guarantee you he’s partially an assistant coach for Jared Goff and his role as a backup there for the Rams. And now that he’s getting to play I just know the stage won’t be too big for him.”