If Sam Bradford is the unquestioned star of the Rams, then new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the unofficial star of Rams Camp. Where Pat Shurmur was all but invisible to fans as a personality on the sidelines the last two years, the fiery McDaniels is standing out from day one.
He was in Bradford's ear all afternoon long, tutoring, cajoling, yelling, and cheering. His voice was clearly audible from across the field as the offense ran drills, commenting on every rep until the unit had satisfied him with their precision. And in a pressure drill late in the workout, McDaniels himself was the one holding the blocking pad and rushing his own quarterbacks.
His energy helped sparked a Rams camp that, due to arcane NFL rules, saw a lot of key Rams sidelined against their will. Players like Danny Amendola, John Greco, Al Harris, Quintin Mikell, Zac Diles, Harvey Dahl and Mike Sims-Walker who just signed new contracts have to stand and watch until the league year begins.
On the sideline with me at various points were Patty of The Pigskin Arch, Ron Clements of CBS Sports, and fellow twitterers @KidNoble, @lannyosu, @BlazinBox and @capriquarius, which allowed us to cover a lot of ground. Some key highlights follow....
Nobody appeared to be significantly out of shape, but several players looked like brand new guys out there. Steven Jackson looks significantly slimmer than last year, build more like a Humvee now than a full-fledged Sherman tank. Mardy Gilyard played full speed without a wrist brace, a sign he might finally be fully healthy. DE George Selvie and TE Mike Hoomanawanui both looked bigger -- which is impressive in Uh-oh's case, as he was already a pretty healthy guy. Jason Smith appeared to be in very good shape. And for an old guy, Al Harris looks fitter than most youngsters. Prowling the sidelines in his UnderArmor, the veteran CB looks like he was chiseled from granite.
And the new receivers, Pettis and Salas in particular, just looked big in general. With those two and Sims-Walker potentially on the roster, this team is going to look different coming off the bus, as they say.
Everyone wants to know how Sam Bradford looked -- the answer? Just like you'd expect. In QB-RB drills, his footwork and chemistry with Jackson, Toston and the rest looked fluid and natural, and consistently earned praise. In QB-WR drills, he was delivering simulated strikes down the seam with ease. (Though on one, he put perhaps a bit too much touch on the ball to Donnie Avery, who looked to close his hands just a hair too soon.)
I didn't get to see much offensive or defensive line work, which is usually something I like to pay attention to, but with so many starters sidelined, it might be a bit pointless.
In special teams play, with Danny Amendola sidelined, Mardy Gilyard and Jerome Murphy were the two primary kick returners, which I found interesting. Neither Pettis or Salas saw any punts or kickoff work.
It was just one catch in one drill, but Brandon Gibson really impressed me on a seam route with exceptionally smooth footwork and a perfectly high-pointed catch. He's struck me as a guy who plays a little too fast for his own good, and to see him potentially settling in -- especially with such high-stakes competition around him -- is a welcome sign.
11 on 11 standouts
Bradford in the huddle during the 11-on-11 drills held on to the ball for quite a long time. I'm not sure if this is by design, letting plays develop to let receivers run them fully, or whether Bradford is simply mentally mapping the Xs and Os of the playbook to the playing field. His throws came out crisply, but never quickly off the snap.
The crowd was hushed on one play when Danario Alexander took a pretty good hit from Craig Dahl. DX got up a little gingerly, but shook it off and was running drills throughout the end of practice.
Mardy Gilyard flashed glimpses of talent that we never really got to see last year, making a couple of very nice catches deep down the field, flat-out beating Jerome Murphy once and taking a hit (but holding on) from Jermale Hines on another. However, he also had a couple of balls go through his hands in drills. Still an intriguing player and even if he doesn't make the team don't be surprised if a trade market opens up.
Gibson also stood out with a spectacular diving catch on the sidelines, drawing oohs and aahs. And Greg Salas did some very nice work coming out of the slot on an intermediate crossing route.
One thing that was noticeable was that we saw Bradford and the rest of the QBs targeting receivers all over the field. From day one of practice with Shurmur, a huge percentage of passes went underneath. Not so in this offense, a welcome sign of things to come.
To help my fellow Twitterers find me (since we've never met in person), I pasted up a "@RamsHerd" nameplate on the back of my Marshall Faulk jersey. This attracted some attention from a couple of the Rams' PR staffers, who came and found me with a camera and a very photogenic interviewer. If you want a laugh, be on the lookout: video of my sweaty mug might show up on the official Rams site sometime soon.