First-Hand Observations from St. Louis Rams Training Camp
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The Rams held their first full-squad practice of training camp on Sunday in front of more than 1,600 fans.
Fisher told reporters following Sunday’s practice that he’s very excited and every training camp feels like his first one. He deflected some of the praise for the fans that came out, instead saying that the fans likely showed up to see some of the recent signings. But, make no mistake, Fisher is an NFL rock star.
That was evident when he made his first public league appearance at the NFL Combine in February. Following his press conference, Fisher was surrounded by a horde of reporters from across the country trying to get in one more question as he walked back toward the tunnel. Before he could get back to watching workouts, he had to first stop to do an interview with NFL Sirius Radio and then TV interviews for NFL Network and ESPN. The reporters who were waiting patiently left with their questions unanswered.
In St. Louis, Fisher has been more than gracious with the media and that’s a welcome change of pace from the close-to-the-vest and paranoid approach of the affable, yet ambiguous, Steve Spagnuolo.
The Rams have more than just Fisher to be excited about. What Fisher and new general manager Les Snead have done is build a 90-man training camp roster—deeper than it’s been in over five years.
The Rams brought in several free agents, including cornerback Cortland Finnegan, center Scott Wells, linebackers Mario Haggan and Jo-Lonn Dunbar and defensive tackle Kendall Langford. Rookie corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and running back Isaiah Pead have added to the excited optimism.
With the signing of defensive end Chris Long to a contract extension and linebacker James Laurinaitis' likely soon to follow, the Rams have locked up two of their defensive leaders as the rebuild gets under way.
As the Rams move forward, retaining Long and Laurinaitis will be critical to the defense’s development. Long is coming off a career year with 13 sacks and Laurinaitis has led the team in tackles in each of his three years.
Fisher wants the two to be mainstays on the defense and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis called Laurinaitis a “perfect middle linebacker for this defense.”
Long said he is “blessed and really lucky” to get the extension out of the way. He was entering the final year of his contract and now his focus can be completely on football.
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“It just puts your mind like you know where you stand and I feel really good about obviously commitment to me and I’m committed to them regardless,” Long said Sunday. “I’m always going to play really hard. To feel like I’m gonna be a part of something turning around, and I know I will, I’m absolutely lucky and appreciative and really happy.”
“I’ve been here along with some other guys for some years now and I’ve seen the downs. When it turns around I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to be watching it from somewhere else.”
Bradford said the first practice of training camp was “awesome” but there are still questions: How will his offensive line hold up? Will a receiver finally emerge as a true No. 1? Can tight end Lance Kendricks limit his drops? Will tight end Michael Hoomanawanui remain healthy all season?
Each of those questions will impact Bradford’s growth as a quarterback as he begins his third season and third offensive system in as many years.
Hoomanawanui reported to camp early to ensure that his knee, injured at Cleveland last year, is completely ready for camp. Fisher said the third-year tight end is moving well and he took part in every drill during the first two days of camp.
For the receivers, Quick and Givens continue to impress and will push some veterans for a spot. One vet who could be in trouble is the oft-injured Danario Alexander. The former Mizzou star has had five surgeries on his left knee over the last five years, but his latest ailment is a lingering hamstring problem that forced him to miss time last season. Alexander hasn't participated in the first two days of camp and could miss up to the first week. He will likely be held out of the team’s intra-squad scrimmage scheduled for Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome.
Alexander’s absence could mean good news for Brandon Gibson, who appeared to be the odd man out among the veterans. Gibson could be slated for that fifth spot. He’s looked good through two days, including a pretty toe tap catch in the back of the end zone on Monday.
The Rams also must find a left guard and there are health questions about both starting tackles. Jason Smith has had three concussions in as many years. The new coaching staff has shown faith in the second overall pick in the 2009 draft—now he has to reward their trust by playing in all 16 games for the first time over his young career.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold suffered a freak pectoral tear while weight lifting that sent him to IR. Saffold is still a bit limited, but could be clear for full contact when the Rams pad up on Wednesday.
Quinn Ojinnaka has been getting the early first-team reps at right guard, but Bryan Mattison and rookie fifth-rounder Rokevious Watkins should be in the mix as well. Center Robert Turner has been working with the first team while Wells recovers from a knee scope he received in May. Wells is still expected to be the starter, but if Turner plays well enough in Saturday’s scrimmage and preseason games, that starting job may not be a given. This is an opportunity for Turner, a five-year veteran who played in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system with the Jets, to prove that he can be a starter.
Wells and Alexander were the only two players held out of practice on Monday.
NFL Network’s Jeff Darlington will arrive in St. Louis on Thursday for an on-site report from Rams Park. The team’s next open practice is Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Central. It will likely be a light practice with limited contact because of Saturday's scrimmage.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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