Rams break tradition and stay close to home for training camp

Morning practice free for public



ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams are making camp in their own backyard this year.

The Rams' 2005 training camp officially opens with the first practice at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Rams Park in Earth City, Mo.

Morning practices will be open to the public free of charge. Fans can park their cars for free in the vacant field next to Rams Park.

Seating will available on the hill that borders the west end of the practice fields, and on bleachers being installed in the south end zones of the practice fields.

There will be autograph sessions after practice, though those sessions could be more limited than they were in Macomb because the players will be exiting to the locker room opposite the fan seating.

Refreshments will be available, and small coolers are allowed.

An information desk will set up at the gate marking the entrance to Rams Park.

John Oswald, the Rams' vice president for operations, said the team doesn't know whether to expect 50,500 or 5,000 fans at the practices.

"It's hard to put a number on it because we've never had training camp at this facility before," Oswald said. "People ask me, 'How many people can sit on the berm?' I don't know. Anybody's guess is as good as mine."

Oswald said a break in the heat predicted for later in the week could boost attendance for the practices.

"Hopefully, we'll be surprised," Oswald said.

The Rams are holding training camp in St. Louis for the first time since 1995, their inaugural season in the Gateway City. That year, they held camp at Maryville University.

The Rams began a nine-year run of holding training camp at Western Illinois University in Macomb in 1996.

Staying home for training camp has become a trend in the NFL as teams look for more a cost-effective and efficient means of holding camp.

There are 13 NFL teams that will hold training camp at their normal practice facilities this year. That group includes the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Moving their operations to Macomb was a major ordeal for the Rams, who had to ship five tractor trailers loaded with equipment back and forth.

"You don't have to move equipment, weights, video equipment and trainers," Oswald said. "They're right where they are the other 11 months of the year."

Oswald said the main drawback with holding training camp at home is food service.

Players will eat breakfast, dinner and have a nighttime snack at the team's hotel, the Four Point Sheraton, located about half a mile from Rams Park.

The basketball court at Rams Park will be converted into a lunch room.

"We don't have a full-service food preparation area here," Oswald said. "It's going to be tight quarters. The food service at the hotel is going to be different. I think the quality and service there is going to be outstanding."

Oswald said he thought the players would like the accommodations at the Four Points Sheraton better than those at the dormitory at Western Illinois University, where there was always complaints about hard mattresses and a lack of climate control.

"With the air conditioning, you had to deal with one switch that ran the whole building," Oswald said. "You couldn't adjust it from room to room, or floor to floor."

All afternoon practices, which will be held in the team's 80-yard indoor practice facility if the heat becomes a problem, will closed to the public.

The Rams will hold a scrimmage at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at Washington University's Francis Field. The scrimmage will be free and open to the public.