Ladies and gentlemen, the Rams have left the building.
The veterans dashed out of Rams Park on Friday knowing they don’t have to be back in the building for the next 5½ weeks. They didn’t go home empty-handed. They got what coach Jeff Fisher called a workout package, and a list of reminders.
“They know that they’ll be tested when they return, so there’s an incentive to stay in shape,” Fisher said.
Hence the workout package. As for the of reminders ...
“You know, all those things associated with summer,” Fisher said. “It’s the four-wheelers and the wave runners — all those things — because strange things happen out there, and most of the time they’re accidental.”
The rookies will get the same message at the end of this week.
“The rookies have one more week here, yeah,” Fisher said. “Just training, pushing the conditioning level, getting ready for camp, and then there will be some off-the-field activities.”
The rookies report back on July 21; the veterans return July 23rd; and the first full-squad practice of training camp takes place July 25. All in all, it seems like the offseason and the spring practice period just flew by.
Once again, there was a lot of roster turnover, with past mainstays and starters Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Bradley Fletcher and Craig Dahl heading elsewhere. Or in the case of Quintin Mikell, still looking for work.
But there’s was also an influx of new talent, from left tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook in free agency to wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, linebacker Alec Ogletree, safety T.J. McDonald and running back Zac Stacy in the draft.
Even with all the new faces, there is a shred of much-needed continuity developing on both sides of the ball. The team did a lot of situational work in the spring, be it two-minute drill, red zone, “backed-up” drills, or whatever. For players who were around for Fisher’s inaugural season in St. Louis, it’s their second time around in the system.
On offense, for example, the entire scheme was put in during the spring. And when the team reconvenes in late July, the Rams will start all over by installing the entire scheme, step by step, once again in training camp.
“We’ve had a great offseason,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “I mean, just a great offseason. Getting a guy like Jake Long and Jared Cook in free agency. And then the draft we had just speaks to (general manager) Les (Snead) and Jeff, and the whole organization and their commitment.
“I understand why Sam (Bradford) has a smile on his face for a lot of reasons. Obviously the weapons and obviously not having to learn a new system.”
Schottenheimer concedes this is probably the youngest group of skill position players he’s ever had to work with.
“If they weren’t working so hard, if they were struggling a little bit mentally — which I’m sure they’ll have their days — I’d probably be a little bit nervous,” he said. “But they’re doing really well.”
Schottenheimer credited Fisher for structuring the spring in a way that gave the offense extra meeting time and extra installation time. Which certainly helps a young, inexperienced group.
As the spring ended, Austin Pettis and Chris Givens were working as the starting outside wide receivers, with first-round draft pick Austin the starting slot receiver, and Brian Quick the No. 4. Not that Quick has had a disappointing spring; it’s just that Pettis has been that impressive.
“(Quick’s) doing a lot better,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s stepped up this year. He’s just much more comfortable.”
As for how things will shake out at running back, to a large degree it remains anybody’s guess.
“You need multiple backs in this league,” Schottenheimer said. “We’re going to try to play to their strengths. ... This year I think we’ve got nice pieces to try to blend in and differently attack people.”
Overall, that remains the biggest challenge on offense, trying to find the best way to maximize the young talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
“I think we’re still trying to find what our identity is going to be,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s a work in progress. I think we’re starting to kind of get a feel for it, but nothing’s done yet. That’s the hard part. What personnel groupings? How do they fit? How do you mix pieces around? Who can learn different spots? Who can’t?”
For the most part, things are more settled on defense, where the top seven defensive linemen from a year ago are back, not to mention two of three starting linebackers, as well as the top three cornerbacks. But safety remains a work in progress, and the Rams are working in a rookie linebacker (Ogletree) under new defensive coordinator Tim Walton.
“Some of the stuff we kept the same and then we have some things we’re tweaking a little bit,” Walton said. “Offenses are ever evolving, so you have to do the same thing on defense.”
Overall, Fisher likes the makeup of this team but realizes there’s a lot of work to be done before opening day in September.
“I like the commitment,” Fisher said. “We’ve said that from day one. They’ve put a lot of hard work in during the offseason program. The attendance was near perfect. We’ve got a few guys that we’re monitoring and watching, just trying to get through on a daily basis (health-wise). But this team is going to come back healthy and ready to go. They’ve made a great commitment.”
But for now, it’s time for a break — head coach included.
“I’ll probably take some time away,” Fisher said. “You won’t find me.”
Then he added with a laugh, “And I’m not going to tweet about it, either.”