In the early days of any NFL training camp, the sweetest sound for any aspiring rookie is the intense echo of a coach's voice bellowing your name. It doesn't matter if he's screaming at you. It doesn't matter if he's screeching about your mistakes. It doesn't matter if he's spitting out your name like it's a rancid piece of meat.
Rookies desperately need attention, so any attention is a good thing.
On the second day of training camp at Rams Park, the practice field — the most lush piece of green lawn in this drought-ravaged town — was full of nothing but rookies aching for somebody to call their name. Call Brian Quick the luckiest guy in Earth City, because the air was filled with the sound of his name.
"Come on Quick!"
"COME ... ON ... QUICK!"
"ON THE NUMBERS, QUICK! ON THE NUMBERS!"
"QUICK, QUICK, QUICK!"
"AWWWW QUICK! QUICK, YOU GOTTA MAKE THAT PLAY, QUICK!"
It was Thursday afternoon, and the scalding July heat wave had dipped down to a more merciful 94 degrees with a gentle trickle of rain spritzing the players for a few refreshing minutes. But it hardly cooled things off for the second-round draft pick from Appalachian State. He's is not a first-round draft pick, but there is that kind of high expectation being placed on Quick because of the importance of his potential role in the Rams' redesigned offense.
The Rams drafted Quick because of his potential to be the big-body, big-play, Pro-Bowl-quality receiver that has been sorely missing in this offense. It's the reason the Rams passed on the opportunity to take more well-known rookie wideouts in the first round. It's the reason the team's biggest star, Pro Bowl tailback Steven Jackson, admonished Quick on his way out of Rams Park after June mini-camp, telling him that he better show up at training camp ready to assume the role as a No.1 receiver. It's the reason why receivers coach Ray Sherman was chirping in his ear all day long, scrutinizing every step he made, critiquing the good, the bad and the ugly.
"I'm a rookie," said Quick, dripping in sweat and wearing a weary expression after practice. "It's to be expected. He's always going to say something. But that's a good thing, you know? If he wasn't saying anything, that means he's not paying attention, right?"
Quick was getting plenty of scrutiny from a thousand eyes and with good reason. "He has so much ability, so much potential," said Sherman. Consider that is no idle compliment, because Sherman is one of those NFL coaching lifers who has an astute and valued eye for developing receiving talent. He's coached Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens in San Francisco, Randy Moss and Chris Carter in Minnesota, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress in Pittsburgh. So when Sherman says Quick has the natural gifts to develop into his next pass-catching prodigy, you listen.
It's why Sherman was all over his apprentice on Thursday afternoon, harping on every dropped pass, every spectacular catch, every good route and wrong alignment the kid made. With only rookies in camp for the first three days, Quick was one of only three wide receivers on the field, which meant he was getting the heavy bulk of reps in drills and during the endless seven-on-seven portion of practice.
It was the perfect crucible to test everything about his character, competitive spirit and physical abilities. The longer the practice went on, you could tell that Quick was wearing down as he kept running full speed on each route, then jogging back to the huddle and sprinting down field on another pass route. An hour into the 1½ hour practice, that up-tempo jog back to the huddle had become slow and laborious. Dripping in perspiration, and clearly right on the edge of mental and physical exhaustion, the rookie was trying to push through it.
He started making mental mistakes. He started lining up in the wrong place. He dropped a pass right in his hands. He had the ball stripped by a defender.
"That's the mental part of it that we want to see," said Sherman, his smile revealing that he likes what he's seen so far from Quick. "Especially when you're running a lot of reps back to back like he was today, this forces you to test yourself mentally more than physically. You have to bear down. You have to concentrate. As you start thinking about being tired, you lack in your fundamentals and mechanics. It happens to all those young bucks. You have to stay on them."
Here's what Sherman liked the most about Quick's second training camp practice. After a mistake, he came back and made a series of good plays. He climbed in the air like LeBron James, snaked his long arms into the air and made a spectacular catch in the end zone over a helpless defender who neither had the height or vertical leaping ability to hang with Quick. He also made precise cuts, made physical plays to shed defenders and kept getting open and making toe-tapping sideline catches. He kept running and running and running like the Energizer bunny, and following up a mistake with an outstanding play.
"Even when he made a mistake, he came back and made a good play and then I told him, 'That's what I'm talking about. That's the way you stay on it,'" Sherman said. "The most important thing you try to get the young bucks to understand is how you have to consistently do that every single time. The one thing you have to understand about life in the NFL is the teams that you're going to be playing, they don't care if you're tired. They don't care if you're a rookie learning your craft. They're going to try and kick your butt every time you line up. So that's the mindset I'm trying to put in his head now. He's going to be alright. It's just a process he's going through right now."