By Palmer L. Alexander III
The St. Louis Rams first weekend of practice – coupled with the glorious weather pattern we’re experiencing and near-record turnouts by the loyal fanbase – has far exceeded anything I could have ever expected.
I have been to a few of these camps over the last 10 years, and the crowds were normally sparse and not really enthused. However, as of now in 2013, the Rams appear to be on the way to having a contending football team that will fill the Edwards Jones Dome or wherever they play. The fans have every right to sense something great is about to happen.
The same thing applies to most of us in the media. And while watching practice, a couple of things stood out, such as the overall speed of the offense and the reshuffled offensive line with Jake Long at left tackle and Roger Saffold moving to right tackle. As much as the new additions grabbed headlines and energized fans and media alike, the main attraction was still the defense.
Two of the assets on defense were signed a season ago without much excitement, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and William Hayes. Dunbar had a career year with 114 tackles and 4.5 sacks. In the four seasons prior, he had a combined 159 tackles.
I asked Dunbar what’s the difference from last year’s camp. He said, “I’m way more comfortable now, because there is more familiarity with the defense and the coaching staff.”
Dunbar said the Rams staff does a great job in recruiting talent and bringing the best possible fit to help the Rams get to the next level. So I asked about the rookie linebacker and second first-round pick Alec Ogletree. “Oh, we welcomed Ogletree with open arms,” he said, laughing.” He will be a great asset to the program.”
William Hayes had eight career sacks entering his first year as a Rams defensive lineman. Brought in to be a role player, he went far and beyond that, having a fine season with seven sacks and 35 tackles, which is not bad for a part-time player.
Talking with William Hayes about not taking a larger contract elsewhere, he told me how much he loves playing here and that he really enjoys coming in to work. With all the negative things that surround sports now on a regular basis, thanks to this 24-hour news cycle we live in, it always encouraging to hear an athlete who does not put money first.
He told me he always plays with a chip on his shoulder. He admitted with a smile to exchanging words with San Francisco ***** quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The camera showed Hayes saying to Kaepernick, “You ain’t (bleep)!”
“Yeah, something like that,” said Hayes, still smiling while walking away.
But this is just two of many stories unfolding everyday during training camp.
This Saturday, August 3 is the Fan Fest open practice at the Edwards Jones Dome; doors at 11:30 a.m. and the team hits the field at 12:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.