Rams players scattered in all directions following Thursday’s conclusion of the spring practice period known as organized team activities. The full squad doesn’t convene again until reporting day on July 24. But that doesn’t mean the players will be lying on the beach for the next 4 ½ weeks, or heading to Vegas.
All have been given instructions on what is expected of them between now and the end of July. In fact, some players rehabbing injuries won’t get to leave St. Louis for a bit.
“We have a number of players who are just not quite 100 percent who will be staying behind,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’ll be doing some rehab until they’re cleared. Those players themselves will get some time to go home, but they’ll have to come back.”
As for the rest of the 90-man offseason roster?
“The veterans and even the rookies for that matter that are leaving now that are healthy, yeah, they have a very, very specific (and individualized) training program that they’ve been given by our strength and conditioning staff,” Fisher said.
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Those who don’t follow their program won’t be able to hide it come late July, and they will be more susceptible to soft tissue issues — muscle pulls and tears — once training camp begins.
Just as important, Fisher once again has given the team “the talk” before they embarked on summer break. The Cliff Notes version: Behave yourself. No arrests. No off-field issues.
“We’ve had the discussion, yes,” Fisher said. “Last summer we were clean. We had a good summer last summer. We need to put two together — two in a row.”
When it comes to football and specifically the depth chart, a fair amount of evaluation by the coaching staff has taken place during spring practices.
“We rank them, and guys are moving around a little bit in the rankings,” Fisher said. “But that’s normal. That’s to be expected.”
Obviously, a lot can change in training camp when the players put on the pads and once the preseason games are played.
But for now, Fisher and the rest of the coaching staff take their own summer breaks content in knowing, first and foremost, that linchpin players Sam Bradford at quarterback and Jake Long at left tackle are well on the road to recovery from knee surgeries.
Bradford actually got a little more work than expected in June, and he looked especially sharp in his last practice Thursday. He was decisive, accurate and moved around like someone who had no concerns about a surgically-repaired knee.
“Everything that he’s getting a chance to go through, just working his reads, finding the checkdowns, and throwing to the new guys has been big for him,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.
“We weren’t sure how much of this stuff he’d get. The fact that he’s been out here and getting work has been good for us.”
Long’s surgery took place more than a month after Bradford’s, so he isn’t as far along in his recovery. Long didn’t take any reps in “team” — or 11-on-11 periods — this month. But he appeared to be moving well doing rehab drills on the side.
He did some individual work with the rest of the offensive linemen as well. As a result, it’s conceivable that Long will be on the field for opening day against Minnesota.
Speaking of Bradford and Long, Fisher said, “I think if we handle it right, they probably won’t be every-day guys (in training camp). They’re going to need a day off here and there because we’re going to stress recovery. But there’s no reason why they won’t play in the preseason.”
As for the rest of the roster, it’s difficult — and reckless — to make sweeping evaluation based on nine spring practices (six of which were open to the media).
From a coach’s perspective, Schottenheimer made a couple of interesting player observations based on what he saw in the spring.
He called wide receiver Brian Quick the team’s most-improved player.
“He’s competing for playing time,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s made the most of his opportunities.”
And he’s already prepared to cast his vote for defensive rookie of the year.
“Aaron Donald has my vote ...” Schottenheimer said, speaking of the defensive tackle from Pittsburgh. “He’s a really good player.”
Most of the wide receivers had their moments during the spring. Austin Pettis may have been the most consistent performer, doing some of his best work in the red zone. It’s clear that Bradford has a lot of confidence in him in that part of the field.
Newcomer Kenny Britt flashed big-play potential, spiced with emotion and energy.
“Still learning the system,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s been a little different for him, but each day he (made) one or two big plays.”
As for Tavon Austin, Schottenheimer hinted his role might be expanded in his second year in the pros.
“Moving him around to a lot of different spots,” Schottenheimer said. “You’ll see us hand him the ball, do some different things. He’s playing so much faster just because he knows what we’re doing. He has the system down cold.”
The competition is intriguing at running back where incumbent Zac Stacy, rookie Tre Mason, and second-year man Benny Cunningham all had moments in the spring. It was probably more coach-speak than anything else when Schottenheimer mentioned Tuesday that there is competition for the starting spot there. But it’s still worth repeating.
“Zac’s obviously a really, really good player, but we’re going to create competition for all the guys,” Schottenheimer said. “I expect to see multiple guys carry the football.”
No. 2 overall draft pick Greg Robinson is making the adjustment to the left guard position, where he’ll start as a rookie. Robinson’s potential is enormous, but there have been early growing pains, not only in learning a new position, but learning a new system that includes lots of pass protections to learn — something that wasn’t a big part of the Auburn offense.
On defense, the biggest concern remains an inexperienced secondary that in total has only 71 NFL starts. But it’s really all about new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams here. So far the players are buying into his personality and his system as he lays the foundation for what figures to be a much more aggressive defense in 2014.