After a disappointing rookie season that basically amounted to a redshirt year, Isaiah Pead must take another step back before he tries to move forward with his NFL career.
The second-year running back from the University of Cincinnati was suspended for the opening game of the 2013 regular season by the NFL for violating league policy on “substances of abuse.”
Pead knows he has only himself to blame.
“It’s definitely a tough blow to be losing a game and to be embarrassed,” Pead said after Thursday’s practice at Rams Park. “Embarrassing myself, my family, and of course the organization and my teammates.
“But it’s well behind. I’m getting over it and now I’m getting ready. I apologize for it. Shouldn’t have been in the situation, but things happen, you learn from it, and you keep going.”
Pead declined to provide specifics of what happened that led to the suspension.
“It was an isolated situation,” he said.
A situation that, Pead added, “I shouldn’t even have been in.”
Although the suspension was handed down at the end of last week, according to coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams have been aware of Pead’s situation for some time.
“This was an incident that took place last summer, so we dealt with it at that point knowing that the league was probably going to follow up,” Fisher said. “We were disappointed. But there’s been so much time between the incident and where he’s at now, I believe it’s behind him. Obviously, he has to suffer the consequences and miss the game but I’m pleased with how he’s bounced back and his professional approach to being a member of this team this year.”
Such suspensions, by league practice, usually aren’t announced until after any appeals process is exhausted. Even so, for nearly a year to pass before any discipline is announced is unusual.
“It happened and decisions were made,” Pead said. “A little bit of a discipline last year, but this is a greater discipline. I take all my discipline as a man. I’ve gotta miss the first week. That (stinks), but I’ll be back out that next week and still training as if I’m out there that first week.
“Can’t get down on myself. Like I said, things happen, move past it, and continue to be the player that I want to be.”
Another thing that’s unusual about Pead’s suspension is that it’s for only one game.
That’s an indication that Pead wasn’t suspended for failing a league-mandated drug test, because those suspensions are always for four games by NFL policy.
One game obviously is better than four, and it may not seem like much.
But there are only 16 regular-season games in the NFL, so it’s the equivalent of a 10-game suspension in Major League Baseball.
In what already is a wide-open competition for the starting job, will Pead’s absence in Week 1 make sorting out the depth chart at running back even more complicated?
“It will not,” Fisher said. “Not whatsoever. There’s great competition there. He’s not going to be penalized as far as reps and carries during the preseason. We’re getting ready for a long haul, and we’ll be without him for one week, which we understand, but it doesn’t complicate things.”
With the exception of the week leading into the Sept. 8 season opener against Arizona, when Pead won’t even be allowed in the building at Rams Park, he can take part in all team activities throughout the spring practice period, training camp and the preseason.
And after missing almost all of the spring practice period a year ago because Cincinnati used the quarter system for its academic calendar, Pead finally is getting the benefit of an entire spring in the team’s offseason program.
“It’s actually been great,” Pead said. “I can honestly say I’m getting better mentally and of course physically every day. But the mental part of it is that the game is becoming slower and I’m just getting accustomed to it better.”
In other words, comprehending the playbook is becoming second nature.
Pead and Daryl Richardson are generally considered the front runners to replace longtime fixture Steven Jackson as the Rams starter.
Pead by pedigree, because he was a second-round draft pick in 2012. Richardson by production after gaining 475 yards a year ago and 4.8 yards a carry.
After getting beaten out in training camp by Richardson a year ago, Pead had only 10 carries for 54 yards in 2012.
They are the only running backs on the roster who have any NFL regular-season carries on their resume.
But 2013 draft pick Zac Stacy as well as holdover Terrance Ganaway should be in the mix.
Undrafted rookie Bennie Cunningham, even though he’s coming off a college knee injury, is already showing promise.
So who knows how it will shake out between now and Arizona?
Pead’s suspension represents one plot twist. Many more could take place at the position, not just leading up to the regular season but throughout the 2013 campaign.
The only certainty right now is that Pead won’t be in the mix for Game 1.