Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress
Spags takes note of Rams' progress
Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The man is a stickler to details. Steve Spagnuolo carries around a little notepad with him everywhere, and he stops constantly to scribble down observations during practices and games. If it is important enough to catch his attention, it is important enough to jot down and look for a solution, note it as something worth repeating or investigate it more thoroughly on film.
Hopefully when all is said and done, it will be the extensive blueprint of the early days of a brilliant career ... or the critical chronicle that carefully traces all that went wrong.
Either way, as the neophyte coach goes through the early stages of his first NFL head-coaching gig, he is documenting everything. What some less- structured folks might call an obsession with minutiae, more sharp-eyed observers will tell you that it may prove to be the secret to Spags' eventual success if he is able to transform the Rams from rag-tag losers into regimented winners.
The NFL preseason is one of the more curious places to go looking for meaningful clues into the regular season. A year ago, the Detroit Lions "roared" through the summer undefeated (4-0) before staggering through the regular season 0-16. Super Bowl winners regularly offer a mixed bag of results in the preseason. And with the exception of the (tongue placed firmly in cheek) glorious Governor's Cup at stake in Thursday night's exhibition finale against the cross-state Kansas City Chiefs, they don't hand out any worthwhile championship hardware in August in the NFL.
But you can glean a few things from these games. You can pick out habits and attitudes. You can detect styles and trends. If a team can't run the ball or get it into the end zone on a regular basis in the preseason, it's rare that a switch flips after Game 1 in the regular season. If a team shows no toughness in the summer dress rehearsals, don't count on a physical or emotional transplant as soon as the live bullets start flying.
So that's why it's so insightful to observe some of the things that Spags has been jotting down in that little notepad, or having his assistants record in their own tablets.
He's looking to see if his team is developing into the "focused, disciplined and tough" squad, and he believes that personality is already forming.
"There were some pieces in there with the first groups now that kind of looked like we envisioned it," Spags said Friday afternoon after an extensive review of game films from Thursday night's 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. "(We were) running the football effectively, moving the offense down the field and scoring a touchdown. The defense coming out and stopping people."
After three preseason games, you might have to squint a little bit to see some of the things that Spags sees, but this much is already clear. The Rams are starting to pick up on his strict, tough-guy vibe.
"I think we're there," said barrel-chested tough guy Richie Incognito. "I think we're getting physical. Everything we do in practice (is physical). We get physical in preseason games. Now we just have to carry it over to the first game of the season and take it to Seattle and dominate up front and let the running backs roll with the ball."
There are still too many injured players out of the regular lineup to know what this team is truly capable of from a won-loss standpoint, but it's not too early to tell what Spags expects on a daily basis. He wants this Rams team, which used to be notorious for mental mistakes and a lack of physical toughness, to be a smart, no-nonsense, grind-it-out team that loves playing with a smash-mouth attitude and doesn't beat itself with dumb, unforced errors.
"In a nutshell, I want a focused, disciplined, tough football team," Spags said. "We have certain measurements that we have after games that measure that focus, discipline and toughness. I blurt them out after every game and let them know if we met them. I think the team is starting to embrace that, too. We talk about it all the time."
The change in personality is going to be a stark transformation in style and substance from the one that characterized the rise and fall of this franchise. In the past, very few football wise guys ever associated toughness with the Rams. That didn't matter much during the height of the Greatest Show on Turf days when the Rams dazzled you with all that fast-twitch athleticism dashing up and down the field.
But it matters now. When the margin for error is so thin, effort, toughness and intelligence can make up for a scarcity of talent. If you are tough and don't make mistakes, sometimes that can compensate for other shortcomings.
"If you're a physically tough team, you're able to run the ball and stop the run," Spagnuolo said quite simply. So he has his assistants recording how the offense and defense do in third-and-one situations, and how they manage to run the ball or stop the run down inside the 10-yard line where football players can have their manhood revealed or exposed.
The Rams are no longer one of the more gifted teams in the NFL this season based on their depth charts. It is still a talent-thin team that does not compare to any of the NFL elite from 1 through 53.
But that doesn't mean that Spagnuolo doesn't expect them to play hard, to limit mental errors and to always be the toughest guys on the football field.
"That's the identity we're trying to create," Incognito said. "Physical up front, and get the running game going ... The coaches are calling it up, dialing it up and they're keeping it coming. We're pumped up, we're excited."
Re: Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress
"Physical Up front" and roll in the Backs. "Be the toughest team on the field". Words to live by!
Is Saint Louis becoming "RAM TOUGH"?
Re: Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress
I sure hope so. If there is one word I would use to describe the Rams in recent years, it definitely would not be "tough".