August 10, 2012
By: Ron Clements

It took Jeff Fisher about three months to finalize his coaching staff.

Fisher was hired in mid-January as the new coach of the St. Louis Rams. While he named Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator and Dave McGinnis as assistant head coach within days, Fisher didn’t finalize his staff until April.

That patient, meticulous approach was partially delayed because of Williams’ indefinite suspension as part of the player bounty scandal in New Orleans, where Williams was the defensive coordinator.

Every one of the assistants has been named at one point or another for their “tremendous” teaching ability, as McGinnis described it. It probably helps that Fisher hired four assistants who are sons of NFL coaches.

Linebackers coach Blake Williams is the son of Gregg Williams; assistant secondary coach Brandon Fisher is the head coach’s son; special teams coordinator John Fassel is the son of former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel and assistant special teams coach Paul Boudreau Jr. is on the same St. Louis staff as his dad, the Rams’ offensive line coach.

“They’ve been around big-time football their whole life,” McGinnis said of the quartet, calling the staff unique.

Jeff Fisher, Blake Williams, secondary coach Chuck Cecil and McGinnis will all share responsibilities of running the defense in Gregg Williams’ absence.

Both McGinnis and Fisher have said that Blake Williams knows his father’s defense probably better than anyone else on the staff.

“Very, very bright,” McGinnis said of the younger Williams. “Blake Williams is extremely bright. Very, very involved and in depth with this defense. His insight into this defense, as to what they’ve been doing is invaluable.”

Jeff Fisher said Fassel’s energetic creativity has been refreshing and contagious. He added that Fassel has the ability to simplify a “very complex scheme” so that “every position is interchangeable.”

It’s no question that the players are happy with the staff.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis said he’s excited to play in the new defensive scheme, citing players like London Fletcher and Jonathan Vilma as examples of middle linebackers who put up good numbers in the system. Laurinaitis listed, by name, McGinnis, assistant linebackers coach Joe Bowden, Williams and Cecil as being beneficial to installing the defense in the offseason.

The Rams began training camp on July 29, rookies reported on July 21, and that’s when the teaching really began.

No player could benefit more than quarterback Sam Bradford, who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2010 when Dick Curl was his position coach. Bradford’s second season was not as successful as then-offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels doubled as the quarterbacks coach.

Bradford said McDaniels was too busy to give the quarterbacks the individual treatment they needed, especially a young player like Bradford. Fisher brought in former Rutgers offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and Bradford couldn’t be happier.

“Coach Cig has been awesome,” Bradford said in May. “He really knows what he’s doing when it comes to coaching quarterbacks. He’s all over fundamentals. Every day he points something out on tape, whether it be my drop, my arm angle, something like that, whereas last year not having that, I probably missed some things and probably got a little lazy. Having him here keeps me very sharp with all the little things, which is nice.”

“It’s nice to be able to come out here and make mistakes,” he reiterated a month later. “And then go in the film room and talk to ‘Schotty’ (Schottenheimer) and talk to ‘Cig’ and talk about those mistakes and learn from them. Then come out the next day or the following day and correct them and get everyone on the same page. Whereas last year, I’m not really sure we had that opportunity. There was an install on one day and then the next day we couldn’t really spend that much time going back. We had to keep pushing and keep putting stuff in. Whereas this year, I feel like the process has been able to slow down a little bit and we’ve really been able to get into detail with what we’re doing.

“I’ve said all along, I think Cig’s great, especially for the fundamentals of playing the position. Every day he comes to me with an emphasis of the day, whether it’s pass game-footwork, run game-footwork, play action fakes, boots, off the run game. And just to have someone who’s constantly reminding to do the little things is very helpful as a quarterback.”

Fisher said Cignetti was hired, in part, because of his close friendship with Schottenheimer.

“Frank and Brian are really close. They’re on the same page,” Fisher said. Their relationship is very solid.

“When Brian ends up getting caught up with the rest of the offense, Frank’s out there watching every snap. You see we’ve got a ground camera on the quarterback at all times. They spend a lot of time going over the fundamentals and the specifics. Frank’s been through the West Coast quarterback school, if you will. He understands this offense and the fundamentals and the techniques very, very well. That’s why we hired him.”

Fisher has also credited Ray Sherman with getting rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens coached up. The head coach cited tight ends coach Rob Boras last week for the job he’s done with the team’s seven tight ends.

“Coach Rob is doing a great job with them,” Fisher said. “They are required to both block and protect and run precise routes. It’s going to be competitive. There are going to be some tough decisions there.”

Bradford’s pass protection will also be important in determining how well Bradford performs in his third season. That’s where the elder Boudreau comes in. Even running back Steven Jackson has been impressed with the O-line coach. Boudreau’s technical teaching has been lauded by the offensive linemen, too.

“He’s real detail-oriented,” guard Quinn Ojinnaka said in May. “He’s about technique. You don’t have to be the strongest guy in the world, but smart enough and have good technique to get guys down. He’s probably the best O-line coach I’ve had since I’ve been in this league.”

Tackle Jason Smith says he’s an improved player because of Boudreau’s “knowledge of the game.”

Jackson has a new position coach in rookie NFL coach Ben Sirmans, whose 16-year college coaching career had him at Boston College the last five years.

“I would like to think we’re learning from each other,” said Jackson, a nine-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowler. “He has a fresh pair of eyes. Where some things that may have become a bad habit or something, he has fresh eyes, he can see. But it’s definitely going to be a learning experience for both of us. He has to learn how long the NFL season is. What it takes to keep a guy fresh for 20-some odd weeks and hopefully prepare for a playoff run, but we’ll learn from each other. We’ll go back to the basics with him and with me helping him, I’ll just teach him what it means to be a pro’s pro.”

Schottenheimer has been complimentary of Sirmans’ work with the team’s two rookie draft picks – second-round pick Isaiah Pead and seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson.

Janoris Jenkins has been one rookie who has stood and McGinnis said Cecil and the younger Fisher are one reason why.

“Janoris Jenkins continues to impress out here, but Janoris Jenkins loves football and he works at it,” McGinnis said this Wednesday of the second-round selection. “Chuck Cecil and Brandon Fisher are doing a tremendous job with him, getting him up to speed on what we’re doing, but he’s a very, very willing pupil and I’ve got no problems with Janoris Jenkins being on the field, believe me.”

Jenkins and the rest of the Rams will take the field on Sunday for their preseason opener at Indianapolis.