James Laurinaitis bringing the defense together. Sam Bradford acting like a coach on the field, barely a year removed from his draft day. If these examples of young leadership on display last week at the player-initiated minicamp at Lindenwood are any example, the Rams will be in great shape for years to come.
However, there's still a tangible difference between the example a second- or third-year player can set, no matter how ambitious, and the example that can be set by an elite veteran who knows in his bones the fine points of playing in the league.
The Rams haven't had that player on the roster in their passing game since the departure of Isaac Bruce. And while the crop of young receivers on the roster have shown flashes of potential, they haven't had that mentor nearby to teach them the fundamental consistency that separates good from great. At least, not until Torry Holt came to the Rams camp.
"He's played for so long and played at such a high level, everything he says you listen to, because he's right all the time."-- Danny Amendola on Torry Holt.
Holt's potential impact on the growth and maturation of these receivers came to mind as I was reading Matt Waldman's in-depth scouting report on Rams rookie Austin Pettis this weekend. The positives that Waldman saw in Pettis' game -- "what he can do that many NFL players can't...." -- were overshadowed by several worrying obstacles in his game that could inhibit his pro success.
Things like "lack of urgency"... "technique flaws with his route running"... "coming off the line slow"... "needs to work at a higher tempo than he's accustomed."
These kinds of critiques go beyond Xs and Os, beyond running a route tree and being in place when the ball arrives, or having the gift of great hands to bring the ball in. And they certainly apply to more than just Pettis -- Greg Salas, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Donny Avery and even a gym rat like Danny Amendola all will tell you straight up that there's more to the game for them to learn. These are the hallmarks, the characteristics of what a pro receiver needs to do that a college receiver never had to.
Who better to teach a young pro than an old pro? Especially one who still has enough left in the tank to both show and tell his techniques.
"He was doing something today," Amendola said after Tuesday's practice. "He ran a route and he was talking in the middle of his route telling us how to do it. And he ran a great route at full speed. And somebody was guarding him too, which was pretty amazing."
Having that example in camp just can't be replaced. It's the inherent advantage a team like the Colts has, having ridiculous ability and achievement personnified in players like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. Their relentless attention to the fine points of their own game allows them to rapidly groom players like Austin Collie and Jacob Tamme to be able to step in when called on and contribute at a high level right away.
The Rams missed out last year when Isaac Bruce went to go tutor the Bears crop of young receivers for Mike Martz, instead of coming here. (Of that group, only Johnny Knox took a big leap forward on the field, upping his yards per catch from 11.7 to a team-leading 18.8).
This is Holt's first offseason unemployed by any NFL team, and the Rams players are happily taking advantage, soaking up as much of his wisdom as they possibly can in their short window of time together.
"They want to learn," Holt said. "They want to be challenged. And that's what I was trying to do to them in these past couple days."
Their next minicamp will be in Phoenix next week, though no word on whether Holt will be returning to the "sideline."
While he looks natural in a coach's jacket and headset, don't expect him to dive whole hog into the lifestyle right away. He seems pretty comfortable on the plush air-conditioned NFL Network sets. And he still hasn't ruled out a return to playing.
"If I play another down, great," Holt said. "If I don't, I've really enjoyed playing in the National Football League. I really enjoyed what the game did for me and my family. And I hope I was able to give the game what it gave me. As well as the city of St. Louis. I love the city."
The feeling is pretty damn mutual.