Rams Look Toward Training Camp
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

The Rams completed their offseason program with their final organized team activity on Tuesday and, with the exception of the rookie class, parted ways for the better part of the next five weeks.

And with that, coach Steve Spagnuolo, his players and his staff will finally get an opportunity to take a long-awaited deep breath before re-convening at the Russell Training Center at the end of July.

Spagnuolo and the Rams announced the opening of the 2009 training camp on Wednesday afternoon. Rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans will report to St. Louis on July 29 and have two practices the following day.

On July 30, the rest of the squad will report to camp with the first full team day of training camp on July 31. The coaching staff will work through Saturday before being excused until July 27. Times and a schedule of practices open to the public will be released in the coming weeks.

“I told (the team) yesterday as they departed that I thought we had enough character, enough talent and enough guys that are driven that we can accomplish whatever we want,” Spagnuolo said. “Whatever we decide we want to accomplish, I think we can do that.”

To say that the offseason has been a whirlwind for Spagnuolo would be a massive understatement. Since his hiring on Jan. 17, it has been a non stop cyclone of hiring a coaching staff, attending the scouting combine, getting to know players on the roster, working on free agency, the draft, the offseason program, minicamps and OTAs.

And now that his first offseason as a head coach is under his belt, he can’t help but believe the next five weeks will be an interesting time as he gets a chance to unwind for the first time since taking the reins.

For his first time off, Spagnuolo says he expects to be in and out of St. Louis for most of the next five weeks and looks forward to spending some time with his wife Maria. That doesn’t mean he will erase football from his mind, though he says he almost has to shove himself to stop thinking about it every once in a while.

“I think the wheels are always turning,” Spagnuolo said. “You need some down time. I force myself to kind of do that. I think that’s a healthy thing.”

Perhaps the greatest concern any coach has when his team enters a down period is that the players will get complacent and undo the hard work they put in during the offseason conditioning program, minicamps and OTAs.

Because it’s nearly impossible to control 86 guys for more than a month, the players are essentially on the honors system to continue to stay in shape and be prepared for the start of training camp.

“I think they do need to get away from me, the coaches, from each other, be with families,” Spagnuolo said. “Wrapped around all of that they have still got to be working. We don’t want them to lose anything in the strength development part of it and the conditioning. I think they all understand that.”

If they don’t understand it, they will learn the hard way considering the way Spagnuolo has structured the upcoming training camp.

Taking his cues from Philadelphia coach Andy Reid and New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, the two head coaches Spagnuolo’s work for in the NFL, Spagnuolo has implemented a pretty strict design on how he wants his first training camp to go.

While Spagnuolo says the schedule will be flexible in terms of adjusting to weather conditioning be it heat or precipitation, one thing is certain: the players will be tested right from the time they get back to St. Louis.

In other words, if someone has been slacking in their time away, it will be easily apparent to anyone watching.

“The way it’s laid out the first five days are definitely a bear,” Spagnuolo said. “The way it’s laid out, the times the practices are going to be, the times of the practices, the length of the practices and typically if you don’t come in shape and in the right frame of mind you run the risk of being injured and not being up to speed for what we are trying to do. After that, it doesn’t get that much easier but it tends to thin out a little bit and they are able to survive. I think any of these camps have to be like that. I mentioned this the other day, it’s between now and the first game that you establish the foundation that helps you win in November and December. I believe that.”

The schedule for training camp is likely to be a departure from what the team has done in recent seasons. Under former coach Scott Linehan, the Rams regularly used a two, one, two schedule for their training camp practices with two practices in one day (one in the morning and one in the late afternoon or evening) and one afternoon practice the following day before going back to the two-practice schedule.

While he says he will be flexible based on weather, Spagnuolo says he would prefer to have both practices before night falls.

“I have put a lot of thought into that,” Spagnuolo said. “We are ready with a couple of options. We’d like to keep them in the day right now with some night practices sprinkled in there. We always have the capability of if it got too rough on them to go indoors and protect them from the sun. We have an open plan and we will play it along with Mother Nature.”
In the meantime, the Rams still have plenty of business to handle between now and the start of training camp.

The rookies will stick around for a little bit and continue to get acclimated to the playbook as the team begins to handle the business side of it by signing the draft class to contracts.

In addition, Spagnuolo says he expects all 86 players on the roster to be healthy and ready to go in time for training camp.

If all goes according to plan, the Rams will come back to St. Louis with their batteries re-charged and ready to go for what should be an intense and taxing training camp.

“You’ve got to have a vision and a belief in that vision before you can do anything,” Spagnuolo said. “I asked them to believe in what we have built in these last 14 weeks of the offseason, let that carry them through the five weeks of work they have between now and training camp and when we get back together we will hit the ground running and see what happens.”