The last thing the Rams coaching staff needs right now are some more knuckleheads to deal with. That priority was quite evident in this draft.
Scott Linehan started the clean-up and Steve Spagnuolo is trying to finish it, with extreme prejudice. After losses, fans like to mock his “four pillars” principles of team building, but this staff has made tangible progress.
He covets natural leaders. He wants smart guys. He seeks players who have produced at a high level. He wants men who really, really want to play.
He doesn’t want any more guys like Jimmy Kennedy, a likable, talented player who was comfortable coasting.
He doesn’t want unproductive developmental projects chosen primarily for their athletic build (Jacoby Shepherd) or speed (Trung Candidate). He doesn’t want players with massive baggage, like Claude Wroten, Richie Incognito and Claude Terrell.
The Rams have moved past those periods. This regime has weeded out most of the underachievers and assembled a much more diligent group.
James Laurinaitis is a leader. Chris Long is a leader. Veteran James Hall is a leader. Steven Jackson caught on and became a leader, too.
Sam Bradford proved to be a fast learner and leader. So did tackle Rodger Saffold, the team’s second pick from last season. The Rams staff hopes the latest draft picks will offer those same qualities and create an even more competitive training camp atmosphere.
Even the seventh-round picks in this draft will bring the attitude to camp. They are longshots to make it big in the NFL, but it sounds like they have ample drive.
Jonathan Nelson played some cornerback at Oklahoma, moved to safety and finished with a strong senior season. The Rams could use a strong cover safety, so he will have a shot at making this team.
As the son of former Vikings receiver Brian Nelson, he knows what he is in for.
“I know if I tiptoed around all the time, my dad would probably be all up in my grill,” Nelson told reporters during his conference call. “That’s just one thing coming from coach (Bob) Stoops, coming from that whole coaching staff, they can’t have safeties that tiptoe around. You have to live by that motto that it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog, and I just feel like I have a whole bunch of fight.”
Mikail Baker played wide receiver at Baylor, but suffered multiple injuries during a five-year span. He moved to defense as a sixth-year senior and played cornerback, safety and nickel back. He returned kicks and has the wheels to play the “gunner” role on coverage teams.
“I feel like I’m a long guy that likes to get up in man coverage, use a little speed, my athleticism,” he said. “I know how to play the ball if I’m playing receiver. I’m not scared of special teams. I played special teams basically my whole career at Baylor. I played every special team. I’m just a hard-nosed football player. I love the game.”
And his strong suit is . . . “Man-to-man coverage, lockdown,” Baker said. “I’m in your face. I can play zone, too, but I want to get up in your face and run with you and see what you’ve got. You have to show me.”
Former Stephen A. Austin linebacker Jabara Williams also sounded ready to bring the lumber. He played on both sides of the ball (running back and linebacker) for a span early in his career and embraces the challenge of making the NFL as a special teamer.
“That’s something I pride myself in,” he said. “I have played special teams, I did it at SFA. That’s something our coach really pushed hard because some players don’t like special teams or feel like they are a star and don’t need special teams and that was one thing we pushed hard on.”
Drafting the right sort of players was more important this year than others, due to the ongoing work stoppage. If the labor dispute drags on through the summer, the would-be rookies won’t get the usual preparation time before training camp.
They may not even get much of a training camp. If the lockout extends into August, draft picks may have to make instant impressions to get a job.
It appears the Rams added a bunch of candidates prepared to do just that.