On a beautiful spring day in St. Louis, Rams Park was abuzz with energy and excitement. Not because the NFL draft is a mere eight days away or big-name prospects were visiting, but because new head coach Jeff Fisher and his staff, along with 59 Rams players, took the field for the first time since ending the 2011 season. (Fisher said that safety Darian Stewart was the only player who was not present, on account of taking a college exam.)
A year ago, the offseason program was derailed due to the NFL lockout, which was imposed by the league’s 32 owners March 11 and did not conclude until July 25, 2011. That helped lead to a 2-14 finish for the Rams, the firing of head coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney, and a record number of players landing on season-ending injured reserve.
As the media was allowed onto the field Tuesday afternoon, it was a sight for sore eyes: Rams players in shorts, jerseys and helmets. There was coaching, instructing and a lot of teaching for the veteran players; implementation of practice template and organizational structure; and, of course, the introduction of the playbook, schemes and evaluating the current players on the roster. All drills are non-combative and non-contact – a pure training session. The two-day minicamp will consist of 75-minute practice sessions.
When Fisher was asked about his first practice after taking a year-long hiatus from the NFL, he said, “I haven’t lost a game in over a year, so it felt pretty good, yeah. Personally, it was very exciting for me to get out there just because of what we’ve been doing. Starting with the staffing, to the personnel in free agency, and now we’re right in the middle of draft meetings, as you can imagine.
“It’s not the best time in the world to have this type of session, but we have to get the work done. Players are done for the day and we’re going to go back upstairs.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw tight spirals to several wide receivers, including Danny Amendola, Steve Smith and standout second-year player Greg Salas. When Fisher was later asked about his impressions of the signal-caller, he said, “It’s his vision, release, accuracy – it’s all those things that we expected to see. He’s picking things up very, very quickly. The accuracy, I think, if you have to pick one thing, it would be that. The ball’s just in the right place every time.”
Elsewhere on offense, running back Steven Jackson looked good and seemed to be in great condition, along with Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and many others.
Even though these sessions are strictly conditioning and teaching, there was also plenty of time for the team’s new free-agent pickups to register strongly. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, center Scott Wells and defensive lineman Kendall Langford, just to name a few, looked as if they felt right at home in their new surroundings.
The Rams take the field again Wednesday to further develop basic fundamentals and conditioning. The team re-signed quarterback Kellen Clemens, who will compete with Tom Brandstater for the backup position behind Bradford, Tuesday afternoon.