Friday, August 1, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
MEQUON, Wis. – One week into training camp, the Rams have finally hit a benchmark that reveals a little light at the end of the tunnel.
That milestone point in camp comes tomorrow when the team has its annual intra-squad scrimmage Saturday morning at 9:50. The scrimmage is open to the public and free of charge though there’s a $5 cost for parking.
For coach Scott Linehan and his team, the scrimmage represents a welcome respite from the daily grind of training camp.
“We are almost to our scrimmage and you kind of break camp into parts and the first part is almost (over),” Linehan said. “We have a lot of offense, defense and special teams in and now we are getting to the point where we are repeating things which is good. It helps things so we can get into a little bit of a rhythm.”
Finding a semblance of rhythm has been extremely difficult for the Rams, particularly in recent days as the tax of repeated practices and contact began to take its toll on the roster.
By Wednesday afternoon, the Rams had a dozen players missing practice because of injury. But things are starting to look up on the injury front as many of those “fatigue” injuries such as sore hamstrings and knees are starting to disappear.
The Rams got three more players back for Friday’s practice after getting receiver Drew Bennett and cornerback Tye Hill back Thursday afternoon.
While the dog days clearly hit earlier this week as evidenced by a pair of not-so-crisp practices, the Rams have been getting guys back and it’s no coincidence they’ve been sharper in the practices leading up to the scrimmage.
“I knew eventually some of the players that were out would start coming back so that’s where we are at in this stage of camp,” Linehan said.
Getting those players back in time for a full contact scrimmage followed by next week’s work with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville is important considering the Rams had been working with smaller numbers in recent days.
A number of Rams were forced to take extra repetitions because their teammates were injured and on the sidelines. As the so called fatigue injuries start to give way to full health, the Rams can begin focusing on doing the things necessary to begin full contact drills and even play some preseason games.
As the calendar page turns from July to August, it’s not just Linehan who is excited about getting in to some real action.
“It’s a little more similar to a game situation,” defensive tackle Adam Carriker said. “We aren’t quite there yet but you get to play football run around and have fun and that’s what it’s all about. I kept looking at my watch like ‘Man, it isn’t even August yet.’ It feels good to hit that month of August and start playing some games.”
The format for this year’s scrimmage will follow the blueprint of the first two years of scrimmages of the Linehan era.
For those that don’t recall, the first units on both sides of the ball will participate in about 25 snaps but contact will be limited. Linehan wants his group working on wrapping up defensively and the offense working on being sharp while staying off the ground.
The first string will work in team drills with much of the work coming in specialized areas such as the red zone or on the goal line.
When the first unit is done, the real hitting will begin as Linehan hopes to get a good first look at some of the young talent deeper on the depth chart.
“We want to see how we block and tackle with the young guys,” Linehan said. “You want to see how guys play, and you want to see how they play not just the first series, you want to see how they play where the condition is when you go through their next couple series. Some of it is to kind of get a gauge on where our entire team is and kind of get us ready.”
Inevitably, every scrimmage will have its high points. A year ago, there was a skirmish between running back Steven Jackson and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe that escalated into a full scale debacle that ended with guard Richie Incognito hurling a helmet across the field.
Beyond that, though, it’s one of the first opportunities for a young player to make an impression on the coaching staff. In 2007, that player was linebacker Quinton Culberson.
Culberson was an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State with little reputation. He was so solid against the run in last year’s scrimmage that even the least discerning of eyes could recognize his talent.
“This is the time where a guy like Culberson starts to kind of catch the eye,” Linehan said. “I know initially at camp, we knew a little bit about him and he was doing some really good things. We got to the scrimmage; we started getting ready for the preseason games; and then the games themselves. That’s when a free agent out of Mississippi State just all of a sudden comes out of nowhere and that’s what you like to see.”
That scrimmage was the first of a series of landmark events that set Culberson on his way to making the roster. A year later, Culberson probably won’t even play that much in the scrimmage because he’s in the mix for the starting job on the strong side.
And though the No. 1 offense and defense won’t likely be on the field for too long or doing any full contact work, it gives everyone some peace of mind knowing that it signals that real, regular season football is just around the corner.
“You go through the stages,” Linehan said. “The two a day part where it’s just Rams on Rams and everything about offense versus defense, that still gets your competitive juices flowing but there’s nothing like playing another team with a different emblem on their helmet. It just changes everything and I know it will be a welcome sight come next week.”