'Lay the foundation'

By Jim Thomas


Nearly two months into his new job, coach Steve Spagnuolo finally addressed the entire squad Monday as the Rams began their offseason conditioning program.

"It feels like the job I signed up to take," Spagnuolo said, smiling. "You finally have a team in there. It was great, and everybody was there. I try not to make the meetings real long, so I just hit them with some things we needed to go forward — bang, bang, bang. I think they appreciated that."

The only player missing Monday was running back Steven Jackson.

"I talked to Steven Jackson last night; he was all set to come," Spagnuolo said. "He's dealing with some family things in Las Vegas, and I told him to stay and take care of that. Otherwise,
he was going to get on a plane and then turn around and go back."

During Monday's remarks to the squad, Spagnuolo stressed not only the importance of laying a foundation of physical training, but also a foundation of teamwork and camaraderie.

"To me, the foundation's big," Spagnuolo said. "The bottom layer of that foundation is all about working together. Being loyal. Trusting each other. Mutual respect. You don't build those kinds of things unless you're around each other.

"So to me, the more we can be around each other, the better chance we get of that bottom layer (being strong). The foundation falls apart if that bottom layer's not strong. So we kind of hit them with that this morning. I think they got the message."

Such bonding doesn't have to be limited to the practice field or the weight room.

"It's going out to have lunch, getting together for dinner," Spagnuolo said. "It's all part of it. When you're going to get in the foxhole with people, you want to know who your buddies are, who you can trust, and who you can work with."

Spagnuolo was encouraged by the response and the body language of the players at the first team meeting of his NFL head-coaching career.

"Just the look in their eyes said that they're ready to go," Spagnuolo said. "They've probably been drooling to have this happen anyway."

Well, "drooling" might be a strong word. The offseason program, which consists of weight lifting and conditioning drills, isn't glamorous work. And as the sessions pile up over the next three months, they can become tedious.

"We'll have a little softball and badminton out there," Spagnuolo joked.

No, that would've been last spring, when then-coach Scott Linehan tried to lighten things up by having the Rams play kickball and softball. That doesn't figure to happen under new strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. He has a reputation for taking an old-school approach and is big on the use of free weights.

Perhaps the new approach will help keep the players on the field. The Rams have had an inordinate number of injuries the past two seasons, with 12 players on injured reserve and more than 150 games missed because of injury or illness in both 2007 and '08. For comparison's sake, the Rams' 1999 and 2001 Super Bowl teams had only 12 players — combined — on IR.

"I'm a little bit aware of it," Spagnuolo said in reference to the Rams' recent injury history. "But I'm looking straight ahead and not backwards. In this league, it's very hard to control that part of it.

"And it depends on what kind of injuries you're talking about. But it's tough to control. Some teams get a lot in a year, and some teams escape them. I'm not sure how you explain it. But we do everything we possibly can to get the bodies ready to withstand an NFL season."

Speaking of 2008 injuries, wide receiver Derek Stanley, who is coming off surgery after a late-season knee injury, is the only player who won't be able to do much at the outset of the Rams' offseason conditioning program.


Offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom and defensive end Eric Moore were re-signed Monday by the Rams. So were four street free agents: quarterback Jeff Otis (a St. Louis native), defensive back Marcus Brown, tight end Eric Butler and center Tim Mattran. ... The Rams informed officials at Concordia University Wisconsin late last week that they would not return to Mequon, Wis., for training camp and were planning to train in the St. Louis area this summer.

jthomas@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8197

Sounds like a good start...your take?