Five years ago at this time, the Rams opened practice to the fans for the first time in ages. Also, my son was born. Suddenly, August jumped up the rankings from one of the worst months in St Louis to one of the best. Unfortunately, though, the Rams and the boy aren't quite ready to go together. I took my son to a practice last week, but ended up spending more time scouting Rampage than watching the field. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, here are a few line items from the two-and-a-half practices I attended last week that didn't make it into yesterday's Rams Fan Fest narrative.
Brian Schottenheimer is working on his receivers' timing out of their breaks. At least, that's what I think is happening when the Rams line up a new drill, with two QBs throwing to two WRs - one split wide, one in the slot. Both WRs run their routes simultaneously, and both QBs deliver the ball within 2-3 seconds. This is an offense-only drill, with no defenders on the field. At first, I thought it was just an illustration of combinations of route concepts, but then I saw Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey run the drill together. Their footwork was flawless, each breaking away from the other at precisely the same moment. It was poetry. And guaranteed to produce difficult decisions in the defense.
Sam Bradford's pocket may depend on defenses respecting the deep route. In Wednesday's 11-on-11 session, Tim Walton was dialing up some creative looks on defense, blitzing multiple times. Meanwhile, the offense was stuck on the "dump off to running back" chapter of the playbook. (According to Wynnde, the Rams have been re-installing their offensive playbook chapter by chapter all week long.) Bradford was harried and his play suffered. Multiple red zone drills fizzled out into field goal attempts.
On Saturday, during the Fan Fest, we saw much more intermediate and deep work from the offense, and we saw Bradford given more time to plant his feet and make those throws. This isn't just a call for Bradford to "air it out" for the sake of fantasy football relevancy. It looks like the linchpin of a successful offense.
Please, please stop worrying about "question marks" in the Rams backfield. Yes, Steven Jackson is gone. No, there isn't an immediate successor in his mold to take the reins. Here is the clearest answer I've heard yet, from longtime practice observer Jim Fadler:
As far as the RB situation. I still think Stacy will finish most games. Let Drich and Pead set him up. Stacy runs out the clock. #Ramscamp— Jim Fadler (@jimiramsboy) August 1, 2013
For what it's worth, I saw an impressive Daryl RIchardson goal-line run up close at the Dome on Saturday. He burst into a rapidly closing hole right up the gut, and got his pads underneath the onrushing linebacker to bang through for the score. But each of the top four runners - including undrafted Benny Cunningham - has impressed in one facet of the game or another. I believe Jim is right on the money talking about them each as role players rather than starters and backups.
My biggest worry coming into camp was left guard. Chris Williams may be the answer. This will come as a surprise to many Bears fans, who saw the former first-round pick bomb out of one of the worst offensive lines in the game.
Speaking with Bears fans, Williams had an Alex Barron-like reputation. A talented player who was almost unmotivatable. Maybe Paul Boudreau is horse-whispering. Maybe the decision to unceremoniously cut Rok Watkins from his positional competition woke him up. Maybe facing off against a violently rebuilt Michael Brockers is having an "iron sharpens iron" effect.
A name to watch: DE Mason Brodine. Working with the second and third team defense this year after sitting on the practice squad in 2012, Brodine is a long and lean backup defensive end. The Rams roster lists him at 6'7", 280+ pounds. I saw him lined up as a DT, facing off against Barrett Jones in one of Jones' first contact drills. Brodine beat him twice - once with speed, once with deception. The latter play was beautiful.
Brodine lined up over Jones' left shoulder, his near shoulder blade dipped down as though to speed rush on Jones' left flank. As Jones snapped the ball and brought his hands up to his left, Brodine flashed sideways across his face and burst up the gap opening on Jones' right. It was devastatingly effective.
Another name to watch: backup C/G Tim Barnes. Barnes' play on Saturday caught the eye of our resident OL guru Tim Shields.
Barnes is a player that could be groomed to fill the invaluable interior backup role that Rob Turner played last season. Left guard is a question mark, and quietly right guard might become one too, with Harvey Dahl getting older and coming off a major injury.
Jared Cook might be all that and then some. (Cue ATCQ...) Cook is generating glowing practice reports everywhere you look. Count me on board as well. One key is that Bradford looks confident enough to put the ball up over the top to him, something we didn't see a lot of last year. Sam would often place the ball low where only his receiver could get it, and settle for the short gains that resulted. This year, he looks more confident. Which in turn makes Rams fans more confident.