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A Big Thank You

Posted by nickwagoner on August 2, 2013 – 1:22 AM

Don’t worry, I promise not to make this some sort of drawn out, sappy goodbye. But I wanted to take a moment to let you all know that today will be my final day and this will be my final column writing for stlouisrams.com.

I’ve accepted a new position covering the Rams for ESPN.com and I am scheduled to begin on Monday, August 5. So I won’t be going too far away but my content will be appearing elsewhere. I’m excited for the new opportunity but I’m also extremely grateful for the past nine-plus years here at stlouisrams.com. I won’t get into making a big, long list of thank yous to the many who have helped along the way, I’ll pass that along privately.

But I don’t want to go without thanking the people who are the most important: that’s you, the fans and readers. I’ve written thousands of pieces of content for this site in the past decade as Keith Harris and I attempted to build this thing from scratch. We made some great progress and none of that would have been possible without you guys. Whether you just read a story, commented on one, participated in a chat or interacted in this blog, I greatly appreciate every person who has taken the time to do it.

I start on Monday and my work will appear on ESPN.com. If you’d like to interact and follow on Twitter, feel free to do so at my twitter tag @nwagoner.

Can’t wait to get going on the next thing. And once more, thanks for everything.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 13 Comments »

Rams Ratchet It Up Thursday Night

Posted by nickwagoner on August 2, 2013 – 1:16 AM

- Coming off a practice that coach Jeff Fisher described as “not our best” Wednesday afternoon, the Rams got back to business Thursday and picked up the tempo in front of another solid crowd at Rams Park.

“I was a little disappointed in yesterday’s but coming back today, we are back on track,” Fisher said.

- The injury list had no real changes as S Matt Daniels, WR Andrew Helmick, WR Nick Johnson, LB Jabara Williams, DE Sammy Brown, S Matt Giordano, TE Lance Kendricks, DT Jermelle Cudjo, DT Al Lapuaho and TE Zach Potter did not participate. DT Kendall Langford started the practice but did not finish. He appeared to be OK after the workout.

- On the bright side, Daniels continued to get work on the side and appears to be edging closer to a return. And Kendricks actually joined him in doing some work on the side which is also a positive step for him in his attempt to return.

- Before we get to the action on the field, it should be noted that one of the greatest Rams of all time was in the house Thursday night in the form of former WR Isaac Bruce. Bruce is in town for a few days and spent the afternoon watching practice and offering advice to the young receivers. Tavon Austin was attached at the hip during much of the workout and Bruce also offered tips to Brian Quick and others.

- When the practice ended, Bruce spent about 10 minutes working with Austin, Emory Blake and Stedman Bailey on the side. It appeared most of the instruction was intent on teaching those young wideouts to get off press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Fisher said there’s a lot of details young wideouts can learn from Bruce and Torry Holt, who will join the Rams later in camp.

“You know, it’s just subtle things,” Fisher said. “It’s just the little detail things from their perspective. We welcome both of those guys in as far as the young guys are concerned.”

- On the field, the action continues to get a bit feisty and one of the best matchups of camp boiled over a bit Thursday.

- Remember back on day one of camp when WR Chris Givens and CB Janoris Jenkins got into a short shoving match though it ended quickly? Well, that boiled over a bit on Thursday when the two continued to face off and ultimately ended in the second skirmish in as many days.

- Jenkins has been pretty consistent throughout camp but Givens had a big day on Thursday. Givens got by him early for a red zone touchdown in team drills then beat him down the left sideline on a back shoulder fade and capped it off with a deep ball that would have gone for a touchdown late in practice. Givens has made it a goal to improve his intermediate route running so as to make him more effective as an all around receiver and he appears to be making strides in that direction.

- Fisher enjoyed that competition and pointed out that he’s enjoying watching all of the competition in camp.

“They’re all battling and that’s good,” Fisher said. “That kind of offensive and defensive competition is taking place at a lot of different positions. It only makes young players better.”

- It was an up and down day for Quick, who started off with a nice catch and route on a fade pass for a touchdown in red zone work but he had a couple of drops later in practice, including one on which he’d created good separation on a deep dig route. He also missed a block on a sweep for RB Zac Stacy.

- LB Alec Ogletree continues to show that he’s not shy about contact. He’s been active running sideline to sideline and dropped the pads for a couple of solid collisions during team drills.

- It was a big day for Austin as he and QB Sam Bradford appeared to be in sync. Austin caught a couple of shorter passes that would have turned into long gains, including one where he got isolated against MLB James Laurinaitis and would have had a catch on the run in the open field. Not many players in the league would make a tackle in that situation.

- That’s going to do it for tonight. Stay tuned for another blog to come in a bit.

- As always, thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 2 Comments »

Smack Cam Compilation

Posted by nickwagoner on August 1, 2013 – 5:51 PM

 

If you haven’t caught on to the sensation taking Rams training camp by storm, allow us to introduce you to Smack Cam. Smack Cam is brought to you by CB Cortland Finnegan, who introduced the game to his teammates

The rules are pretty simple: it’s a game for players only. If any player is at any time wearing team issued Rams gear, he’s fair game. The Rams’ version of Smack Cam involves whipped cream pies and though it’s been pre-dominantly a defensive-oriented game so far, anyone is fair game.

Common targets include Finnegan, DE Chris Long, DE William Hayes, CB Trumaine Johnson and S Matt Daniels.

Below is a compilation of the (recorded) efforts so far, including the most epic of the Smack Cam breakdowns.

Finnegan was hit with a pie while doing interviews with the local media last week by Long and Hayes. He vowed to get his revenge and bided his time until this morning. After hiding in the shadows of the Rams’ studio, Finnegan burst out and nailed Long while he was doing an interview with NFL Network.

Finnegan even went so far as to send out a fake tweet about “traffic” in St. Louis keeping him out of the building so as not to raise suspicion. While Long maintained his suspicions during the interview, Finnegan found the right moment. The results are below, followed by links to the rest of the recorded Smack Cam connections.

https://stlra.ms/RamsSmackCam

Pt 1.  7/24

https://vine.co/v/hKQLAHaU1nv

Pt. 2 7/26

https://vine.co/v/hAMUnWhDv0H

Pt. 3 7/26

https://vine.co/v/hAOAYOLKbru

Pt. 4 7/26

https://vine.co/v/hAeDhQFtngH

Pt. 5 7/26

https://vine.co/v/hAe3wE3w9nu

Pt. 6 7/31

https://vine.co/v/hq52q5nuQtg

Pt. 7 7/31 

https://vine.co/v/hq1EzeUduDY

Pt. 8 7/31

https://vine.co/v/hqvqj25TiKq


Posted in From the Sidelines | 4 Comments »

Rams Back to Work on Wednesday

Posted by nickwagoner on July 31, 2013 – 11:39 PM

- The Rams returned to practice Wednesday afternoon after getting the requisite off day on Tuesday. It was the team’s second day in pads (though it wasn’t fully padded) and coach Jeff Fisher said it was clear that they were a little bogged down in their return to the practice field.

“They look forward to the first one and then the second one they kind of took a step back a little bit,” Fisher said. “They pushed through it, it wasn’t our best practice. You are going to have one of those every once in awhile. You’ve got to push through it and correct it.”

- On the injury front, the Rams had a few new additions to those in street clothes sitting out the workout in addition to safety Matt Daniels, DT Jermelle Cudjo and TE Lance Kendricks. WRs Nick Johnson and Andrew Helmick, two young wideouts who have made positive impressions early in camp, sat out the practice as did LB Jabara Williams and DE Sammy Brown.

- The Rams tweaked the roster a bit in the past few days, saying goodbye to OL Kevin Saia and OL Braden Brown, both of whom were waived/injured. The Rams added OL Graham Pocic (an Illinois graduate) and WR Justin Veltung, who spent some time with Seattle.

- Veltung, wearing No. 19, actually made a strong first impression Wednesday, showing some route running ability and coming up with a couple of nice catches in team and 7 on 7 drills.

- Veltung is listed at 5’11, 182 pounds and is a rookie out of Idaho.

- While we’re on receivers, let’s hit on some others who also had nice afternoons on Wednesday. Rookie Stedman Bailey showed up all day, making a nice grab for a touchdown in 7 on 7 drills in the red zone and he followed later with a connection in the corner of the end zone from about 35 yards out in team drills. His route running is crisp and he seems to be a fit in any role that’s asked of him.

- Fellow WR Brian Quick also had a nice afternoon, burning CB Janoris Jenkins with a smooth double move in 1 on 1 drills. Quick has recently showed a propensity to be more physical and it’s winning him points in the eyes of his teammates.

- QB Sam Bradford made it a point to mention that seeing Quick “use his strength and size is a good sign.” That’s a role Quick can certainly play given his frame and it would be an ideal complement to what the other receivers bring to the table.

- To this point in camp, Bradford said he is pleased with the progress of the offense but he’s well aware there is more work to be done. He said the Rams are working on things that might have been in the playbook last year but they didn’t have the personnel to run or vary the formations enough to make effective. Now, it seems, most anything is in play when it comes to lining up out of the huddle.

- The defense had its share of moments on Wednesday as well as rookie safety Cody Davis again came up with an interception in team drillls. That’s two in as many practices for the undrafted rookie who is looking to win a roster spot.

- Rookie LB Ray Ray Armstrong also came up with an interception of QB Kellen Clemens in the red zone. He’s been getting work with the second team defense and while he’s showed up on special teams quite a bit, it was a good step for him to come up with a standout play defensively.

- S T.J. McDonald kicked off the team drill festivities with an interception of his own, stepping in front of a Bradford pass and snatching it away. McDonald has been something of a pleasant surprise in coverage so far and he clearly enjoys the physical aspects of the game.

- Later on, McDonald might have enjoyed the physical aspect too much when he hit RB Daryl Richardson aggressively and maybe a bit after the play was dead. Taking exception to that, C Scott Wells and LG Chris Williams went after McDonald a bit for what was this camp’s first full fledged skirmish. CB Cortland Finnegan came to the rookie’s aide and got tangled up with the much bigger Williams. DT Matt Conrath was also involved thought it was hard to determine how exactly it all played out. Words were exchanged along with some shoves but no real damage was done before the sides were separated.

- Former Rams TE Ernie Conwell, who now works as a players advocate for the NFLPA, was in attendance for Wednesday’s practice. FOX broadcaster Joe Buck was also in the house.

- The Rams will be back at it tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. for another practice open to the public at Rams Park.

- Thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 4 Comments »

Rams Put on the Pads

Posted by nickwagoner on July 29, 2013 – 11:30 PM

- Under an overcast sky with more cool temperatures, the Rams put on the full pads for the first time as a full squad on Monday afternoon and went through another two-hour or so workout.

“We actually introduced them yesterday during the special teams session and it was good,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “As is always the case with the first day of pads, you look and your team just slows down. You are running around fast with great team speed without pads and you put the pads on…it’s a process. Tomorrow is off and then we’ll pad Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, four real good sessions this week. By Saturday hopefully they’ll feel pretty comfortable in them.”

- On the injury front, the Rams appear to be making some progress. OL Barrett Jones returned to action after a long recovery from a Lisfranc injury in his foot. Jones was cleared on Sunday after starting training camp on the non-football injury list. He got some work in at center and had a bit of rust, drawing some friendly catcalls from his team on one snap he sent sailing high and to the left.

- Regardless, it was good to get him back on the field according to Fisher.

“It’s a little different in that he’s been conditioning and he’s acclimated,” Fisher said. “It’s ironic that his first day of practice was in full pads but we wanted to get him back, it was nice to get back, he had no setbacks at all so he’s good to go.”

- The rest of the group of injured players, including TE Lance Kendricks, S Matt Daniels and DT Jermelle Cudjo did not participate again. Fisher did say that Daniels is close to a return as he continues to rehabilitate from a knee injury. Rookie OL Kevin Saia did not participate because of a foot injury and WR Andrew Helmick left practice with an injury.

- On the field, there was some pretty good action despite the play slowing down a bit with pads on.

- And, as is always the case with the pads, there were a few pretty big collisions. RB Isaiah Pead, who got a lot of work with the first team offense, had a couple of run ins with LB Alec Ogletree and at one point dropped the hammer on CB Janoris Jenkins in the open field. A more physical approach for Pead could serve him well, especially if he continues to be decisive as he was Monday.

- RB Zac Stacy also seemed to relish putting the pads on. He burst through the middle for a couple of nice runs and was stout in one on one pass protection drills against linebackers. Considering his running style, fully padded practices are right up his alley.

- The biggest collision of the day came on a completion to TE Cory Harkey down the middle of the field. Harkey took a shot from S T.J. McDonald but popped right back up. Undoubtedly, Harkey would have jumped up anyway but it couldn’t have hurt that it was former Trojan and a former Bruin colliding. No chance the Bruin will let the Trojan get the better of him and vice-versa.

- WR Tavon Austin had a couple of drops early but made up for it later on with some impressive catches, including a deep ball that was dropped just over the defense.

- OC Brian Schottenheimer talked to the media for a bit after practice, which we’ll have more on tomorrow, but one thing he pointed out that has been obvious in the first days of practice is just how difficult the Rams’ defensive line is making life for the offense. The defensive line has regularly created pressure on QB Sam Bradford and it’s made it hard for the offense to get in rhythm at times. Schottenheimer believes that can only help make the offense better as camp moves along.

- RT Rodger Saffold is continuing to make the transition from the left side but Schottenheimer said he’s noticed some growth since the spring, when he said Saffold was struggling a bit in making the move.

- Ogletree seemed particularly active and physical with the addition of the pads and drew praise from DC Tim Walton after the practice. Ogletree is still working with the first team defense and that doesn’t appear bound to change anytime soon.

- On the subject of linebackers, the Rams have a special guest in town in the form of former Tennessee LB and Fisher favorite Keith Bulluck. Bulluck spent nearly a decade playing for Fisher in Tennessee before calling it a career in 2010 with the Giants. According to NFL.com statistics, he finished his career with 1,069 tackles, 18 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and 21 interceptions. He earned All Pro honors three times.

- When the Rams drafted Ogletree in April, Fisher acknowledged the comparison between Ogletree and Bulluck, noting the athleticism and skill sets were quite similar. Fisher said Bulluck isn’t here specifically as a tutor to Ogletree but that Bulluck’s knowledge is certainly welcome for any members of his team.

“I’ve run into Keith several times since he retired and he got word to us that he would like to come out and visit so we invited him in,” Fisher said. “It’s good to see him. He’s doing well. he’s working toward a Masters degree right now, trying to decide what to do and I think he missed football so it’s a good opportunity to get to see him.

“Keith has got the kind of personality where I’m sure there will be some conversations. I think if Alec has followed our game, he’ll realize the kind of player Keith was.”

- The Rams will have the day off tomorrow, which works out well considering a forecast of rain before returning to practice on Wednesday. They will have padded, open practice on Wednesday at 3:30 and Thursday at 5:30. They’ll have another open practice (without full pads) on Friday at 3:30 before Saturday’s scrimmage which is set for 12:30 at the Edward Jones Dome and is open to all fans. For more information, check out the homepage for Rams FanFest.

- That’s all for today. As always, thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 6 Comments »

Special Teams Takes Center Stage

Posted by nickwagoner on July 28, 2013 – 4:58 PM

- The Rams were back on the practice field Sunday morning but in a different capacity than the first three days of camp. Coach Jeff Fisher opted for a closed-to-the-public special teams only workout before the entire roster puts on the pads for the first full squad, padded practice scheduled for Monday afternoon.

- Special teams coach John Fassel brought his usual burst of energy to a group workout that lasted a little more than an hour and featured some spirited moments.

- Punter Johnny Hekker continues to knock the stuffing out of the ball and has established himself early as someone ready to make a big jump in year two.

- Hekker had a strong rookie season but, by his own admission, was inconsistent at times. Fassel believes Hekker is going to continue to develop that consistency as the Rams head toward the 2013 season.

“We have some goals for him,” Fassel said. “I think with him it’s consistency. Towards the end of the season he really became more consistent. We’ve got some directional punts and he’s working right and left so we’ve got some things that I probably would rather prefer not talking about but consistency and his holding ability, too.”

- While each normal practice includes some special teams periods, those workouts don’t allow for as much work and evaluation as a practice such as Sunday’s. Fassel likes to use these practices as a chance to really evaluate potential core special teams guys. While guys like Hekker, kicker Greg Zuerlein and long snapper Jake McQuaide are pretty well set in their jobs, there’s plenty of room for a young guy to steal a roster spot by performing well in coverage units or as a blocker on return units or even as a returner.

- Sunday saw plenty of chances for those guys and it resulted in some spirited competition. At the end of practice, Fassel put his group through competitive one on one drills where one player protects the “returner” (in this case a big, blue tackling dummy) and one is the gunner. The idea is to let the players be a bit physical but also work on technique to shed blocks or use blocks.

“To me they are huge,” Fassel said. “We try to do drills and then at some point, like we did today in the last 20 minutes, we have got to open the field up and let them run from the line of scrimmage all the way to the returner to see if he’s fast, if he can get off blocks and then to see if he can be a blocker and so we have got so many guys, I think there might have been 65 guys out here for special teams practice so we try to split up the drills so there are short numbers in the lines so we can see everybody on tape. When we get into the preseason, everybody might only get a rep or two per phase.”

- The aforementioned final drill did result in some feistiness as linebacker Darren Bates and Josh Hull exchanged words on multiple occasions. It appeared to start when Bates caught Hull with a big block on a punt return that would have sprung Tavon Austin for a long return. The two then engaged again during the final drill. Fassel said he doesn’t mind the competitive aspect of the drill so long as it remains reasonable.

“I love it,” Fassel said. “To be a special teams guy, you have got to be a little wild and crazy. You can’t be passive so I have just got to make sure we are not fighting and not playing penalty football but you have got to have a little fight as a teams guy and this is a chance for them to show it.”

- Like Hekker, Zuerlein has been impressive in the early days of camp. Fassel said that the plan for Zuerlein in the offseason was to finally allow him some rest. Since he returned from an injury following his junior year, he’d basically been kicking for two consecutive years. Fassel believes that Zuerlein was a bit fatigued toward the end of the season and he wanted his young kicker to spend the offseason gaining leg strength so he could avoid muscle fatigue and be at full strength for more of the season.

“He started on fire and then he kind of was just (OK) toward the end of the season,” Fassel said. “A lot of that had to do with just a young guy who kind of got worn out from the combines and all the workouts in the preseason and the spring. We gave him a lot of time off after the season to kind of freshen himself up, got back in the weight room and his strength has improved so his ability and success later in the season should improve.”

- As for the returner job, that’s something that will sort itself out over the course of camp though it’d be folly to think Austin won’t be involved in some way. Austin worked as a returner during Sunday’s practice and that will continue. How much or the extent of his work there will depend on his workload on offense, according to Fassel.

“I think that’s to be determined,” Fassel said. “We’ve still got a ways to go before that but it definitely is a factor. What’s his load on offense? Is it too much to do both punts and kickoffs? The things with kickoffs nowadays is half the time they are touchbacks so the reps are less than they used to be as far as a returner. But I think it’s to be determined what’s his load on offense. He could be a punt and kick return guy or maybe just one or none based on length of the season based on how much work he’s getting.”

- Other alternatives in the return game also are getting opportunities and that includes the likes of Nick Johnson and Isaiah Pead. Johnson, in particular, has been getting plenty of opportunities.

- That’ll do it for today. The Rams are back on the practice field tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. and that practice will be open to the public. It will be the first full-squad padded workout so it should bring some noise.

- Thanks for reading.

 


Posted in From the Sidelines | 7 Comments »

Picture Perfect Night Brings Out Record Crowd

Posted by nickwagoner on July 28, 2013 – 1:10 AM

- There was plenty of action on the practice fields at Rams Park on Saturday night and we’ll get to all of that in a minute but the real show stealer of the evening was a picture perfect evening which brought out a record crowd.

- With temperatures hovering in the mid-70s under a blue and sunny sky, fans looking for a chance to see their Rams up close couldn’t have asked for much more. And they responded in kind with a crowd that reached 2,297 people. That’s the highest turnout for an on-site practice in the history of the franchise in St. Louis.

“I’ve been told it’s one of the biggest in years, which is great,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s a great combination because we got a Saturday evening, we’ve got great weather and our baseball team is on the road so it’s a great opportunity.”

- Fisher was asked if the turnout is any indication of the building buzz around the team.

“Yeah, that’s what we’ve been hearing which is great,” Fisher said. “They were here early and we encouraged them to come back. They got to see some big plays today, a couple plays down the field, which is good.”

- More on those big plays in a moment but a bit more on the weather. Following a 2012 camp which was brutally hot from day one, this year’s camp has offered a respite in the early going. If forecasts for next week are accurate, the Rams will have temperatures in the upper 70s with nothing higher than 84 through Thursday of next week.

- While that weather is a plus for the players now, it’s not the best in terms of conditioning. Of course, as Fisher points out, it’s highly unlikely the unseasonable cool temperatures will continue.

“Really it’s ideal from an acclimation standpoint and them getting used to everything,” Fisher said. “But we’ll have some (hot) weather ahead of us. That’s good. It contributes to the conditioning level. It’s always good to put them in a position to where they have got to focus and concentrate in the second part of practice when the temperature is up. I’m sure it’s around the corner.”

- On the injury front, the Rams had the same group of players sitting again today except for TE Philip Lutzenkirchen who returned to action and made a couple of nice catches during team drills. OL Barrett Jones, TE Lance Kendricks, S Matt Daniels, DT Jermelle Cudjo, DE Sammy Brown and T Braden Brown did not participate Saturday night.

- On the field, it was another strong outing for the defense which appears to have taken the first day production of the offense as a challenge and responded. After a one on one session plagued by defensive holding and pass interference, the defense got to work in seven on seven and especially in team drills.

- S Rodney McLeod had a pair of interceptions in team drills while working with the second team defense, including one on a tipped pass by DB Quinton Pointer, who continues to show up in the early proceedings.

- Rookie CB Brandon McGee, who has impressed early with his physical approach and jamming technique work stepped in front of a pass intended for Stedman Bailey for an interception as well.

- The defensive line continues to get regular pressure on all unit but especially the first group. That’s a quartet that figures to be difficult to block in 2013, perhaps even more difficult than it was last year when it helped the Rams lead the league in sacks.

- CB Janoris Jenkins and WR Chris Givens are close friends but they have not hesitated to get after each other when matched up. That pairing is one of the most fun to watch in the opening days of camp with each side coming up about even in individual victories.

- The offense didn’t go without its share of successes, either. After two strong days that earned him praise from Fisher, rookie S T.J. McDonald got brought back a little by the walking mismatch that is TE Jared Cook during the one-on-one drills. Cook makes it look so easy and has clearly emerged as a favorite of QB Sam Bradford.

- Bradford connected on a couple of deep balls, including a perfect strike down the right sideline to Austin Pettis during 2-minute drills. The play would have gone for about a 55-yard touchdown catch as Pettis got behind Trumaine Johnson. WR Brian Quick also got loose for a long ball that would have been a score.

- You can easily tell who has the local support during practice as rookie WR Andrew Helmick (Lindenwood) had his own cheering section making noise anytime he touched the ball Saturday night. He continues to put together solid practices. WR Nick Johnson should also garner some credit for his early work and he’s doing it mostly against the second-team defense.

- The first team offense had a new face in action at times on Saturday night in the form of FB Eric Stevens, an undrafted free agent out of Cal. The Rams worked on some two-back stuff, which we haven’t seen much of during this camp. Normally, that role would likely be filled by Kendricks but with him nursing an injury, Stevens is getting a few snaps to work with the first group.

- The Rams will have a full on special teams practice tomorrow (the session is CLOSED to the public) but P Johnny Hekker put on a show of his own Saturday night. His leg is fresh right now and it shows as he’s kicking the ever-living stuffing out of the ball right now.

- DT Michael Brockers continues to impress and clog the middle. Fisher said he put on some weight, though it was mostly muscle weight in the offseason and Brockers has been stout early in camp. He had offseason ankle surgery back in the winter and is feeling not residual effects from the operation. Brockers said he feels good and is fired up to attack his second season fully healthy.

- The next time the Rams will have an open practice is Monday at 3:30 p.m. at Rams Park. That will also be the first fully padded, full squad practice of camp.

- Thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 4 Comments »

Rams Keep Energy High on Day Two

Posted by nickwagoner on July 26, 2013 – 11:35 PM

- The Rams just wrapped up Friday afternoon’s practice and with the weather continuing to cooperate in ways tht would normally only be found in places like San Diego, the tempo remained high and the competition only increased.

- After a big day for the offense in Thursday’s first practice, the defense got back in the mix on Friday as the sides seemingly traded plays. More on the on field happenings in a moment.

- First, a quick rundown of the injury list. OL Barrett Jones, TE Lance Kendricks, DT Jermelle Cudjo, S Matt Daniels, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, OT Braden Brown and DE/LB Sammy Brown did not participate in the practice. All are nursing some form of injuries and the former four are working on some injury designations though they still count against the roster.

- On the field, there were more positive signs for the offense. Traditionally, it takes a bit for the offense to catch up to the defense in camp but given the team speed and all of the offseason work QB Sam Bradford put in with his new weaponry, the offense seems to be a bit ahead of the curve. Bradford connected on more deep balls and looked more sharp on intermediate routes.

- WR Chris Givens made an acrobatic back line catch in the end zone despite tight coverage by CB Janoris Jenkins. Givens actually was out of bounds before the catch but it was still an impressive catch considering the tight coverage Jenkins had.

- The defense had a nice day with a number of pass breakups, particularly by the defensive backs. LB Alec Ogletree made a nice play to knock a crossing route away and S T.J. McDonald looked particularly good in coverage with a handful of pass breakups.

“Someone is going to make a play when you are competing against each other,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “The offense either makes it or the defense makes it so from my perspective, those are good things. But yeah, the defense got their hands on a lot of balls today. It’s good to see some of the younger DBs make some plays.”

- In fact, there may be nore more encouraging early sign than McDonald’s work in the early going. Upon being drafted, many questioned McDonald’s ability to cover but early returns would indicate that it’s a task he’s more than capable of handling. Again, it’s early and there are no pads yet but McDonald’s work has earned early praise from Fisher.

“I’m especially pleased right now with T.J.,” Fisher said. “Each day there’s improvement. There’s more and more familiarity with what we are doing. He’s making more plays. He’s just an excellent athlete and a good football player.”

- When asked about the competition at safety – where McDonald and Stewart are getting most of the first team work, Fisher acknowledged that it’s a spot that will get attention in this camp. He also cited some strong early work from Rodney McLeod.

- CB/S Quinton Pointer also had a nice day, coming up with a couple of interceptions, including one during team drills.

- TE Mike McNeill made an impressive one-handed catch down the seam in team drills. McNeill is in an intriguing battle for tight end spots behind Kendricks and Jared Cook. Catches like that certainly won’t hurt his cause.

- One early standout in the seven on seven and team drills among the undrafted free agents is WR Andrew Helmick. The local product (Lindenwood) has showed up well in the first two days of full squad practice. Granted, he’s not doing it against the likes of Jenkins or Cortland Finnegan but he seems to have a knack for getting open and he too made an impressive one-handed grab down the left sideline. Keep an eye on him as camp continues.

- The work by both lines has been pretty solid so far but it’s important to note that pads haven’t been put on yet. We’ll monitor that more closely when the pads come on. DT Matt Conrath is bigger and looks stronger as well. He got his long arms on a couple of passes at the line of scrimmage during team drills.

- One thing that’s clear about this team is that these guys genuinely like each other. Pranks among the vets became a common occurrence last year (crickets in James Laurinaitis’ car, anyone?)  and they have carried over to this season.

- CB Cortland Finnegan brought a little game called “Smack Cam” to the table this year. The idea is that if you are a player and you are wearing Rams gear, you are a target and can be hit at anytime with a whipped cream pie. Finnegan apparently got CB Trumaine Johnson and DE Chris Long early in the proceedings but he got his comeuppance twice on Friday. The first was a simple sneak attack in the morning while Finnegan was in the training room.

- But Long and Johnson were not satisfied and hit Finnegan with a double pie while he addressed the media. The residuals hit many members of the media as well and Finnegan claimed responsibility. It’s all in fun, of course, and there’s a great chance we’re only seeing the opening stages of the Smack Cam.

- Finnegan did take some time to talk about more than jokes, though, saying that he too has been impressed with McDonald and McLeod and he’s looking forward to seeing how the competition at safety plays out.

- Finnegan also noted the improved speed in the offense saying WR Tavon Austin is “as advertised.” Finnegan likes the improved competition from the offense, though, saying the idea is that practicing against that group can only be good for the defense.

- The Rams have another practice that is free and open to the public set for tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at Rams Park.

- The real fun will begin early next week with Monday’s 3:30 p.m. practice the first open workout scheduled to have the team in full pads.

- Thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 2 Comments »

Veterans Embrace Camp Fisher

Posted by nickwagoner on July 26, 2013 – 4:12 PM

- As a former player himself, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a deep understanding of the rigors and difficulties of an NFL training camp. Combining that knowledge with rules out of his control that have been imposed by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has allowed for the Rams to put together a training camp schedule that not only is tolerable for players but one that is actually liked by them.

- For as long as training camps have been around, they’ve been viewed as a necessary evil. Sure, players liked camp because it meant they were a step closer to games but nobody actually liked the process of practicing in the heat wearing full pads twice per day and then sitting in meetings for most of the rest of the time. In essence, training camp was something to survive.

- But Fisher has a different approach to camp. He and his staff have spent years trying to figure out best practices for putting the schedule together while maintaining ways to let his team get maximum rest and recovery time between actual practices.

- It starts with staying at home for training camp, a plan that first hatched when Fisher was in Tennessee and his teams never really had any other option. From there, Fisher and his teams began to embrace the idea of training in their backyard and still having a chance to go home to their own beds at night.

- So it is that Fisher’s first training camp took place here at Rams Park last year, is here again this year and will likely remain here for the forseeable future. That’s a nice bonus to begin with for players with families since their loved ones don’t have to travel to a remote college to see him.

- Fisher also goes a step further by not forcing all of his players to stay in a local hotel during training camp. For many years even when the Rams have trained in St. Louis, the entire roster has been forced to stay in a hotel for the duration of camp. Not so anymore. For any player that has at least three full seasons under his belt, he can stay in his own home and sleep in his own bed. It may not sound like much but for the players it’s considered a big deal to the guys in the locker room.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am that Coach Fisher has that policy,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I felt bad for the guys who were going to the hotel last night after we were done with meetings, but I was pretty excited to go home.”

- Bradford said it’s a small thing but those small perks help curry favor for Fisher in the locker room and put the onus on the players not to take advantage of those opportunities.

“I think, obviously, Coach Fisher knows what he’s doing,” Bradford said.  “It’s not a huge deal, but to be able to go home – we’re still going to get home at 9 or 9:30 p.m. – but just to be able to spend that 20 minutes on the couch, watching TV and then go to bed in your own bed every night, it’s definitely comforting.” 

- Beyond hotel rules and curfews, Fisher and his staff have also extensively studied the reasons and timing for many training camp injuries. One of the conclusions they’ve come to is that players often get hurt when their bodies don’t have enough time to recover. They’ve even done studies on the best times to hold practices. As a general rule, Fisher prefers late afternoon workouts – most of the Rams’ practices this year are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. during camp – and he mandates a minimum of 24 hours between those practices.

- All of that doesn’t stop during the preseason. During the 2012 season, Fisher would occasionally give his team a “sleep in Thursday” in which he’d push practice and meetings back until later in the afternoon so his team could get a bit more rest. Those are just a few of the examples of things Fisher does to keep his team fresh and prepared at all times.

“I like training camp now,” defensive end Chris Long said. “I hated training camp before the new CBA. I like it now because you are not constantly fighting it and being super fatigued where I think it’s like a point of diminishing returns where you work so much that actually you are maybe even getting worse. Now Coach Fish does such a good job of making sure we get our rest and recover so if we are not getting any better it’s on us. Guys really respond to that.”


Posted in From the Sidelines | No Comments »

Rams Kick Off 2013 Camp

Posted by nickwagoner on July 25, 2013 – 11:41 PM

- The Rams officially opened their 2013 training camp on Thursday afternoon with picture perfect weather under sunny skies with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. The outstanding weather seemed to have everyone in a good mood as a strong, enthusiastic crowd showed up ready to match an energetic team that seemed genuinely excited to be back on the field.

- The crowd for the day registered at 1,755 people. With this weather and a team that is increasingly enjoyable to watch, those numbers may only grow this weekend.

- On the injury front, the Rams have a handful of players not participating, most of whom are on the active version of the physically unable to perform list. TE Lance Kendricks, S Matt Daniels and DT Jermelle Cudjo have that designation. Coach Jeff Fisher said he didn’t expect any of that trio to miss extended time. All will count against the 90-man roster but are eligible to come off at any time.

“Those situations are a bit different,” Fisher said. “I wouldn’t expect to see them on the field at least for the next couple of weeks.”

- Rookie OL Barrett Jones is also on the PUP list but listed under the non-football injury designation. The designation is different but the rules are essentially the same. The only difference is that Jones didn’t suffer his injury as a member of the Rams. He, too, is expected back in a relatively short period of time.

- Undrafted rookie OT Braden Brown did not practice Thursday as he battles a back ailment.  TE Philip Lutzenkirchen also sat out the practice.

- As was reported yesterday, G Rokevious Watkins has been released. Watkins again reported to camp out of shape, missing his designated target weight. Fisher addressed the issue after practice:

“We have reporting requirements as everybody does and he didn’t meet them,” Fisher said. “He had difficulty last year with it, he had difficulty with it this year so we just thought it was better off cutting him loose.”

- Watkins had maintained in the spring that he would be reporting back in shape this year after working hard to recover from a foot injury and get in shape for the offseason conditioning program. He had once been considered a candidate for a starting guard job but had been working almost exclusively as a backup to RG Harvey Dahl in the spring.

“It was disappointing,” Fisher said. “He’s got ability to play. He is just struggling with some things.”

- As for the happenings on the field, the Rams were quick to show off some of the improved speed they have at a variety of positions. Receiver Tavon Austin drew oohs and aahs after making a catch in the flat, changing direction quickly and darting down the field. More impressive was a deep ball he caught down the left seam from Sam Bradford later in the action.

- Austin’s fellow rookie wideout Stedman Bailey followed with a deep ball catch of his own.

- After working the short and intermediate game early in 7 on 7 passing drills, the Rams wasted no time in uncorking the deep game as Bradford fired long balls for Austin, Bailey and Chris Givens. Givens narrowly missed a catch on a deep pass (though the play likely would have been a sack in a game), but drew applause from the crowd for his effort as he layed out for the ball and just couldn’t quite come up with it.

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- The Rams are not in pads yet per league rules but likely will put pads on for the first time early next week.

- As for the offense, Rams MLB James Laurinaitis said he could see a noticeable difference in the group as a whole as the first team offense and defense squared off in practice. Laurinaitis specifically cited the speed and the multiple formations the Rams used as reasons why the offense is much harder to defend than it has been in the past. Laurinaitis said the matchup problems the offense could create is exciting to see and said he’s looking forward to seeing QB Sam Bradford “sling it around” like he did in his Oklahoma days.

- DE Chris Long also spoke to the media and talked about now being the team’s longest tenured player as he enters his sixth year in the league. First and foremost, Long takes pride in being the guy who has been a Ram the longest but he also acknowledged that he still looks to learn from all of his teammates, particularly the ones who have been in the league longer than he has.

- On the topic of being around for a long time, Long said he truly believes this is the year for a turnaround, offering that “I know this is it. I know we are going to turn it around.”

- Long also is enjoying his veteran status along with the rest of his teammates who have at least four years in the league. Those players get to stay in their own homes and sleep in their own beds during camp. Fisher doesn’t hesitate to take care of his players and Long mentioned that it doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. Long said he believes the way Fisher runs camp is more productive and more conducive to daily improvement rather than just making it an unbearable grind.

- Tempers flared a bit early when Givens and CB Janoris Jenkins got tangled up in an early passing drill. Nothing came of it but an early sign that this team is ready to go, perhaps.

- Bradford again discussed embracing more of a leadership role this year with RB Steven Jackson gone and echoed Long’s sentiments about the way camp operates. He also pointed to the obvious improvement in speed at all positions.

- TE Jared Cook picked up where he left off during the spring, working the middle of the field with his usual smooth routes and long strides. Something about Cook just makes you want to throw him an alley-oop. There will likely be plenty of those tossed his way.

- Much like the spring, Chris Williams got the bulk of the work at left guard. He and Shelley Smith are expected to battle there.

- Brian Quick seemed to have a solid day, making the majority of the catches on balls thrown his way.

- Fisher said this group may not have a “bellcow” like Jackson was at running back but he likes the competition that figures to form there. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead got first dibs on the first-team work Thursday.

- The Rams are back at it tomorrow with another 3:30 p.m. practice which is open to the public. Thanks for reading.


Posted in From the Sidelines | 8 Comments »