Pead Pushing for More in Year Two
Nick Wagoner Senior Writer
Much has changed in the past year for Rams running back Isaiah Pead.
A year ago at this time, Pead was in his Cincinnati apartment, waiting for Rams running backs coach Ben Sirmans to contact him via FaceTime and discuss what his fellow running backs and rookies went over that day in the classroom.
Restricted to the use of technology to make a sort of digital classroom, Pead did his best to keep up while NCAA rules dictated that he wait for his class to graduate before he could begin his new job as a Rams running back.
Pead missed out on the basic introduction most rookies get during the Organized Team Activities and fell behind as his teammates learned new schemes and got to know one another.
“Not only to be in the meetings with the rest of the team and learning the things in the classroom but being out on the field with the team and learning that chemistry,” Pead said, of what he missed out on last year. “The team learning you as a player, as a worker, what type of person you are. When I came out to training camp, the guys knew I was a second round draft pick but I hadn’t proven myself.”
Given the presence of longtime stalwart Steven Jackson at running back, Pead’s absence wasn’t as damaging as it might have been had Jackson not been around.
But this year, Pead is exactly where he wants to be and the opportunity in front of him is quite clear.
Pead finished his third OTA on Friday along with the rest of his team and he’s entering this part of the offseason program well aware of what could be out there for him to achieve in year two.
With Jackson having departed for Atlanta as a free agent in the offseason, the job of starting running back which has been filled for the better part of the past decade now sits with a “Help Wanted” sign hanging from the window.
While it seems unlikely the Rams will lean on just one back to replace Jackson, there is clearly a burgeoning competition to see which back will get first dibs on the opportunity and potentially stake a claim to the most amount of chances during the season.
Because of those numerous possibilities, Pead is taking a serious approach to his job and viewing every aspect of what he does as a way to gain a slight edge.
“I look at it as an opportunity every day,” Pead said. “Whether it’s Steven being gone or somebody getting a question wrong and I get the question right. Every small opportunity that I can capture or see, I try to capture it. This one will be a bigger opportunity but I’m trying to capture it as if it was a small one.”
For Pead to capture that opportunity, he knows that he’s going to need to take a big step forward in his second season. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has often indicated that he believes players make their biggest jump between their first and second seasons.
It’s a jump Pead is going to have to make after an unsatisfying rookie season in which he never fully caught up to his fellow backs or even his fellow rookies.
Upon his return to the Rams after his class graduated, Pead had just a couple of days to get acclimated before the team departed for the pre-training camp break. It was during those OTAs that the Rams installed the entire offense and though Pead did his best to keep up via Face Time, it didn’t really offer the hands-on learning that everyone else received.
“I was in Cincinnati, frustrated,” Pead said. “I was on FaceTime with the coach trying to simulate what it was like in the meetings but it didn’t work too much.”
When everyone returns to Rams Park for training camp, Pead was still in catch up mode while the rest of his teammates were essentially re-learning the schemes and concepts they’d learned in the spring.
Although Pead was the second-round pick, he was passed by fellow rookie Daryl Richardson on the depth chart and Richardson earned the bulk of the carries not taken by Jackson.
Other than a cameo appearance against New England in which he carried three times for 32 yards in London, Pead didn’t get many more opportunities until the season’s final week in Seattle.
In the meantime, Pead did his best to learn from his fellow backs. If one of them made a mistake and then had it corrected during film work, Pead would make a note of it and file it away to try not to make the same mistake when his turn came.
Wanting to get a glimpse of how Pead was catching up before the season ended, Fisher gave Pead a little longer look in the finale. Pead carried five times for 21 yards and finished the season with 54 yards on 10 carries.
The Seattle game wasn’t much but it was at least a chance to leave a positive impression and Pead did what he could.
“They say you are only as good as your last game,” Pead said. “Those small images are still stuck in the coaches’ mind. But I can’t just pride myself off of five carries. I have got to pride myself off of the work that I do every day in the weight room, out here on the field, in the classroom. Even outside of football in conversations with the coaches and always keeping a smile on your face.”
For any competitor, maintaining that smile can be a difficult exercise when things don’t necessarily go according to plan. After a successful college career, Pead had high hopes for his rookie season and when things on the field weren’t going how he’d envisioned, he was put to the test of trying to stay upbeat and patient while waiting for his turn.
“When football is your life and football is your job and football is not going right, your life is not going to go right as far as feeling wise, My life is great, I have got a great family, loving family at home, a nice house in Chesterfield, great people, it was great, it was just the football aspect wasn’t going as planned. I’m still playing football. I’m still doing what I love to do every day.
“As a competitor, you want to play, bottom line. You want to be out there contributing and that wasn’t happening for me. It was just a down feeling. Not necessarily the whole year. But last year was a learning point. Whether I was on the field or not, I learned something every day. I can honestly say that.”
It is those lessons that have Pead motivated and enthusiastic as he goes through his first full offseason program. He’s making it a point to stay in his playbook as often as possible and is enjoying the chance to go through the offensive installation with his teammates and then review it with the coaches.
Asked what some of the things he is working on to ensure that he’ll have more opportunities in 2013 and Pead is quick to rattle off a laundry list of how he’s looking to improve.
Headlining that list is an aversion to mistakes that Pead is hoping to develop and emphasize. He said first and foremost it starts with being assignment sound and understanding his responsibilities. He’s also putting the onus on himself to improve his body positioning and his pass blocking so that he can be a reliable option on any down or distance.
From there, he hopes to let some of his natural talent take over.
“I just wanted to eliminate all mistakes, mental mistakes, physical mistakes,” Pead said. “Things like body position, knowing where to line up, knowing what routes to run, things like that. I just want to be to the tip top shape.”
As he watched the Rams add players like tight end Jared Cook, receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and tackle Jake Long to the offense during the offseason, Pead couldn’t help but find himself excited about the offense’s potential.
At Cincinnati, Pead played in an up-tempo, spread offense that left a lot of running room for him to do damage. While it remains to be seen how much of those ideas the Rams adopt in their offense for this year, Pead would be a logical fit should those concepts become a staple of the scheme.
As for the competition with players like Richardson, Terrance Ganaway and rookie Zac Stacy, Pead said they all treat it as competition but they help each other out to ensure they are all on the same page.
No matter how that all shakes out, Pead believes that having a full offseason and a platter full of opportunity in front of him will only serve to motivate him to reach his potential.
“I think I just play with a chip on my shoulder,” Pead said. “Whether my emotion is down or it’s high, I am going to try to keep it level. I just try to play with that electric; that oooh, that aaah, I like that. That drives me. And when that play is over, next play. I’m a snap and clear guy but I like to have fun. We are young with a lot of firepower and we are going to make a lot of big plays. I’m just trying to be a part of it.”