By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

02/19/2009

First came the new coach, Steve Spagnuolo. Then came the new coach's staff. All the preparation work is complete for free agency, which begins a week from Friday, save for the day-to-day tweaking as players get cut, re-signed or are given the franchise player designation.

Yes, general manager Billy Devaney and the new Rams coaching staff are almost caught up. Except, that is, for the little matter of the NFL draft. Draft preparation and evaluation hit high gear with the NFL scouting combine, now under way in Indianapolis and lasting through Tuesday.

"We've got to get everybody me included up to speed," said Devaney, who left Wednesday afternoon for Indy. "We're close, but we're not where we should be right now. So we've really got to cram, watching as much (tape) on top of the workouts while we're at the combine."

Along those lines, the Rams have set up two tape-watching work stations in Indianapolis, one at the hotel where the Rams will hold their formal player interviews each evening. The other is at Lucas Oil Stadium, which has replaced the demolished RCA Dome as the site for player workouts.

"We're going to be in the dome early in the morning before the workouts start, looking at videotape," Devaney said. "And after the interviews, we'll look at more. Every spare minute, we're going to be either watching a prospect or looking at videotape. It's going to be more of a grind for us. Every spare minute is accounted for us."

But it's a good kind of grind for Spagnuolo and Devaney.

"We were talking about that at the end of the day (Tuesday)," Devaney said. "I said I've never looked more forward to going to a combine than this year to get out of the office and just home in on pure football stuff, and not all the other stuff that's going on."

It's especially true for Devaney, whose life's work has been evaluating football personnel.

"This is the fun part of the year," Devaney said. "Free agency. Players on your own team that you have to make decisions on. The combine. Draft. Workouts. Shoot, you go a hundred miles an hour in all different directions. This is when it's really fun."

But for much of the time in January and early February, Devaney was busy going through the job search that led to Spagnuolo's hiring. And once Spagnuolo was hired, Devaney helped assemble a 20-member coaching staff.

At the Senior Bowl last month, the only time Devaney left the team hotel was Thursday for the practice, which wasn't in full pads and therefore not very revealing in terms of player evaluation.

"I got nothing out of it," Devaney said.

So for now, Devaney is relying more on his scouts, as well as vice president of player personnel Tony Softli, to get him up to speed and keep things organized.

"We have to cram, but we'll have it done," Devaney said. "The scouts will have everybody (evaluated), say the top 20 offensive linemen. Well, the order that they have them in may not be the exact order they wind up. But we know who the 20 names are. So it's easy enough to do the tape work and get caught up on that."

For Devaney, the most important things at the combine are the medical information and the formal interviews. Each team is allowed to have 15-minute personal interviews (in the team suite) with 60 players.

"Out of those 60, there are guys that we have serious interest in at different positions," Devaney said. "It's kind of an initial getting to know the guys that we have a real interest in."

Other informal interviews also take place, and before the Rams are finished they will have talked to almost all of the more than 300 draft prospects in attendance.

As for the workouts, Devaney said he's usually not influenced by them.

"Only if it's an extreme," he said. "Extremely good; extremely bad."

And with only five victories in their past 32 games, the Rams need to find some extreme talent in the draft.