Sunday, August 5, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When coach Scott Linehan and the Rams planned for Saturday’s scrimmage, they did so with the intent that the first team offense and defense would have limited contact then give way to the backups so they can go into live action with tackling, blocking and everything that goes with it.

But what they couldn’t have planned for was the hitting beginning before the action went live. About 40 minutes into the open scrimmage and with the first unit on each side doing team drills, the first scuffle of the 2007 training camp began.

Running back Steven Jackson took a handoff and darted up the middle before being stopped up by Corey Chavous and the whistle blowing. After the whistle blew, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe continued to pester Jackson and strip the ball away. The pair exchanged shoves which led to an all-out fight.

Soon, the entire team was in the middle of it trying to break it up and guard Richie Incognito was tossing a helmet. Finally, cooler heads prevailed, but not after an intense couple of minutes.

Linehan said after that he wasn’t surprised that things began to get out of control, considering the point of training camp that has been reached.

“It’s that time of year,” Linehan said. “These are the dog days. That was an example of you just have to keep your composure. That’s the kind of thing that will cost you a game. You get a guy kicked out of a game or a personal foul in an untimely part of the field and it’s going to cost us potentially a game. It’s unacceptable and non-negotiable so we have to get that corrected.”

Jackson and Atogwe departed the Russell Training Center quickly after the practice, but Linehan let his team know in the post-scrimmage huddle that those kinds of dust ups are not going to help anything. Still, Linehan recognizes the competitive nature of an NFL player and what adding heat and fatigue to the mix can do.

While it was hard to gauge what Incognito’s role was because there was such a crowd, he echoed Linehan’s sentiments after the scrimmage and said all parties were joking about it in the locker room afterward.

“It was just the heat of the battle,” Incognito said. “It was hot out there and tempers were flaring. We’re a family and sometimes families have fights.”

As Incognito acknowledged, it is the offensive line’s job to protect the running back. For him, it was a matter of fixing a problem.

“It’s not a macho thing, it’s not backing down, it’s more of a right and wrong,” Incognito said. “It’s not about me being a tough guy, it’s kind of like being the sheriff and keeping things cool.”

Soon after the tempers flared, the first team units were excused to the far practice field to do some running and conditioning and the live scrimmage began. With most of the big name players on that side of the field, the Rams were a bit limited on personnel participating in the actual scrimmage.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Berlin split the snaps at quarterback. Some of the bigger names left included running back Brian Leonard, cornerback Jonathan Wade and receiver Dane Looker.

For most of the scrimmage, it appeared the defense had a decided edge, but the offense had a few moments to shine as well.

There was only one actual touchdown scored as backup tight end Mark Anelli caught a 20-yard scoring strike over the middle from Berlin.

Anelli has been a rising player in this camp and despite the competition at the tight end spot, has done well in making others take notice.

“It worked out all right,” Anelli said. “It’s a difficult situation. Our position is pretty stacked. All I can do is go out and take care of my end of it and see what happens.”

Anelli’s catch wasn’t the only highlight offensively as the Rams had a couple of potential touchdowns whistled out. Running back Kay Jay Harris broke off an impressive touchdown run that was called back for holding.

And perhaps the most impressive play of the day came from Fitzpatrick. On a designed handoff for Travis Minor, Fitzpatrick improvised and took off on a sideline run that appeared to be a touchdown. Minor slipped in the backfield and Fitzpatrick noticed immediately and reacted by taking off around end.

The play was blown dead because Linehan didn’t want anyone hitting any of his quarterbacks, but Fitzpatrick would have scored untouched otherwise.

Aside from that, though, the offense didn’t have its best day. Fitzpatrick was intercepted by cornerback Josh Lay, who made a nice leaping grab to make the play. Linebacker Jon Alston also flashed some ability as he was all over the field making some played.

Safety Jeffery Dukes laid a big hit on receiver Dominique Thompson on a slant pattern and Wade came up with a nice tackle and forced fumble on Harris.

Overall, Linehan said the two sides were about even.

“There were two victories there,” Linehan said. “I think the offense could move the ball and defensively we limited them to three. Then we got in the next situation where I think the defense got off three-and-out. And then we had another situation where the offense was moving the ball and the defense got a turnover and then another situation where the offense scored. Then we drove down and put ourselves in the position offensively to win a game so there is about a 50-50 split.”

On special teams, the Rams were without returner Dante Hall, who was resting a sore hamstring. Linehan said he expects Hall back when the team returns to the practice field Monday morning.

In Hall’s stead, the Rams used Marques Hagans, Thompson and Derek Stanley in the return roles. Stanley, in particular looked good on the returns, including one kick return in which he found a hole, hit it and burst through for what would have been a touchdown.

Meanwhile, tight end Aaron Walker was trying to establish himself as the backup long snapper. Walker was the team’s emergency long snapper a year ago, but struggled mightily Saturday as he snapped a pair of balls that hopped to punter Donnie Jones.

“For some reason it slipped out of his hands,” Linehan said. “I think he had his gloves on and his hands were extremely wet. Whatever it was we need to get it corrected.”

All told, nobody in particular really stood out with the possible exceptions of Alston, Looker and a solid performance from Berlin.

Now, the players are off until Sunday evening as they get a day to recharge the batteries before next week’s preparation for the opening preseason game against Minnesota.

Considering the way tempers flared and with fatigue setting in, the break probably couldn’t come at a better time.

“It is obvious,” Linehan said. “We have been working hard in the past and almost the entire camp. We have been out here for almost two and a half hours every time we practice and now there is extreme heat so I think they need a break to rest and get recharged.”