As one might imagine, the Rams’ 2012 rookie class flew into Lambert Airport with eyes wide open. Most will sleep in a nearby hotel or, if they are lucky enough and know a veteran player, they can crash on that individual’s couch or in a spare room. There are also many adjustments that come with moving to a new city and its surroundings, from finding grocery stores and restaurants to the closest movie theatre. Of the utmost importance, though, is learning the new playbook and terminology, focusing on the Rams’ way of doing business, meetings, lifting and running sessions.
Having your name above the locker is special and exciting for these young players. For most draft picks and college free agents, several will share a locker until the Rams’ brass starts the weeding-out process during the preseason. A rookie’s time can be short, and they all understand that. If they don’t , they are in for a rude awakening. If they struggle to learn, have multiple mental errors on film or just can’t hack the day-to-day grind of being an NFL player, they’re out. In my 15 years in the league, I’ve witnessed several rookies request a meeting with the head coach prior to or after a practice. They simply turn in their playbook to the head coach and move on to the next phase of their lives. It’s a cold, harsh learning experience, but that is reality for some.
Coach Fisher and his staff have organized these young players and formed their mindsets the moment they walked through the front door. From the team meeting session and positional meetings to lunch and lifting sessions or walkthroughs before an afternoon practice, these young men have bought into a new program that is much different from college
When I asked Coach Fisher about spending extra time with his rookies, he said, “Last week was the off week for the veterans. The rookies stayed, didn’t work with the coaches and got caught up from a lifting and conditioning standpoint. It was very beneficial for them, it appears that everybody is caught up closing the gap and everybody is in real good shape.”
When asked if the team is ready to throw the pads on, Fisher said, “They have got to the point where they have learned how to practice against one another and compete full speed but protect each other without the contact.”
It is a tough business. The grind is long and hard, and on the hot sunny days the sweat is crusted on your face. Always, however, the goal is to get better as a young player. And, every once in a while, the coach will throw you a bone.
“I’m going to give them tomorrow off,” Fisher said. “We are required to have four OTAs this week. Four is too many during the offseason, or four consecutive practice days is too many. So they will get a lift in tomorrow, that’s all we require and we will finish up on Friday.”
At Rams Park, everything is a teaching and learning experience. When the rookies are given a day off, do you remind them to behave themselves, or is it an honor code system? Are there talks with them about avoiding Justin Blackmon-esque situations?
“We’ve had those talks,” Fisher conceded. “Most of the guys stayed in town. They understand the consequences, they understand the sense of responsibility. These rookies will eat lunch and go to another rookie development meeting, and talk about those things all over again. We’re reminding them of everything that is important to being a real pro.”
Rams rookie school is in full effect, with training mode both on and off the field being stressed with equal importance by Coach Fisher, his assistants and the front office. The young Rams will experience another segment of the NFL offseason when they hold their minicamp June 12-14 at ContinuityX Training Facility.