As the young Rams took the field early Friday for a walkthrough and then again later in the afternoon for what head coach Jeff Fisher called “rookie orientation,” it was very obvious to me that Fisher and general manager Les Snead had already achieved several goals. The 2012 draft class was bigger, more athletic and much faster than the past three draft classes from the old regime. When Fisher was asked if this signaled the start of a rebuilding process, though, he said, “No! We deleted last year, so … we’re putting players in place and we’re going to go out and try to win as many games as we can.”
I was impressed with the organization of these practice sessions and how they flowed. The young players knew where to go, how to get aligned and hustled from drill to drill and team period to team period. Coaches were teaching in all phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams), with Fisher barking out instructions at the end of the periods and players responding with hustle to the next drill relocation.
“This is a good class,” Fisher said at the close of Friday’s portion of the minicamp. “They’re working good together. We’re going to meet this afternoon. We’re going to do some more orientation and then obviously they’re going to stay. Then on Monday they’ll pick the work up, just the rookies, and then Tuesday we’ll have our first OTA with everybody together.”
The rookies also attended a team meeting, which consisted of 35 drafted and CFA (college free agents) players along with four tryout players. No longer the big men on campus, these players spent the weekend learning the first step to becoming a professional football player.
“We’re installing football, so they’re learning football,” Fisher said. “But keep in mind, they need to learn how we eat. They need to learn about how we conduct ourselves in the training room and the weight room, in the meeting rooms. They’re getting to know each other, so there’s a lot of information that we’re giving them, in addition to the football and just to prepare them.
“Most important thing is that they realize that they are, because of the process, way behind the veterans as far as conditioning is concerned. So they need to be honest with us and we need to find out where they are because we want to avoid pulls and we need to close that gap as quickly as we can. Probably going to take two or three weeks before we’ve got them caught up.”
The team’s first-round pick, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, displayed very good first-step quickness and powerful UOH (use of hands) with punch and lateral slide. It was nothing that I hadn’t seen in his DNA (film), but it was extremely refreshing to see the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder move in person.
One of the big concerns from fans remains the fact that the Rams’ brass missed out on Justin Blackmon in April’s draft, and Sam Bradford still is not surrounded by top-flight receivers. Over the weekend, however, both Brian Quick and Chris Givens impressed. Quick displayed gazelle-like movement and an extremely smooth gliding stride. Similar to the week I spent with him in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, he created separation from defenders and caught the ball outside his frame, making acrobatic snags both across the middle and displaying sideline awareness with tap shoe and drag concentration. Givens showcased soft and sure hands along with precise route-running skills; his burst and acceleration after the catch set him apart from the rest of the pack of receivers.
“Same thing we saw from Brian at the workout,” Fisher said. “He’s got really good hips for a big guy. He’s got good hand-eye coordination and he’s learning well. He’s running good routes already. And then Chris, you know, Chris can run. He can really run and he’s made plays, so they should be able to contribute this year.”
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ quickness and short-area change of direction complemented his extremely smooth peddle and fluidity. He was in press and bump position in one-on-one drills and, despite not being able to get very physical, still managed to get his hands on the ball.
Others that really impressed me over the weekend: CB Trumaine Johnson (size and movement skill set), RBs Isaiah Pead (lateral burst and acceleration, plus great feet) and Daryl Richardson (speed and gear change), TEAs Jamie Childers (route-running skills and hands) and DeAngelo Peterson (receiving skills, body balance and control), FBB Todd Anderson (size and movement for a big man), OLBs Sammy Brown (size, length and instincts) and Alex Hoffman-Ellis (movement skills and awareness in space with interception), and OGs Michael Hay (size and feet with ankle flex) and Rokevious Watkins (size, feet, anchor, base to slide with bent knees and use of hands).
It is just the beginning for these young players but one could see a marked improvement from day one to day two. With the OTA’s (organized team activities) starting this week, Fisher was asked what he is looking to achieve once the veterans also enter the building.
“As we told the varsity this past week, we’re going to start again from Day One with the installation, and by the time we’re done in mid-June, we will have installed absolutely everything,” he said. “Then we’re going to do it again when training camp starts. So when they come and report to training camp, they’ll know exactly what to expect through camp. The only difference is we’re going to put some pads on at times.”