Nick Wagoner Senior Writer
Rams coach Jeff Fisher offered a number of fair warnings to his team before it departed for the past month or so and the summer break that lands between the end of Organized Team Activities and training camp.
But none probably was emphasized more than the need for all players, but especially those who’ve never participated in a NFL training camp to come back in shape and ready for the grind that camp represents.
“Right now in the National Football League, you just can’t spend time getting your team in shape,” Fisher said. “They have to come into camp in shape. This is when they are in the best shape, year around, is these next couple of days. So you have to maintain that through camp. That’s what we’ll try to do. From a young guy’s standpoint, again, I thought they worked hard.”
Indeed, 32 Rams rookies and a quartet of players who were around last year but don’t have an accrued season reported for duty on Sunday night and took part in Monday afternoon’s opening practice.
In addition to the 32 rookies, the Rams had receiver Nick Johnsonhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif, running back Chase Reynoldshttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif, tight end Cameron Grahamhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif and guard Brandon Washingtonhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif join in the initial workout.
Before the afternoon practice, though, the youngsters had to go through a grueling conditioning test meant to ensure that they spent the past month or so preparing for what was to come.
According to Fisher, his players did as he’d hoped.
“We think it’s important,” Fisher said. “They stayed a week longer. We get them in, get their feet on the ground, get them used to things and obviously we are limited in what we can do because we don’t have the numbers to have full teams but I thought they did an outstanding job this morning on the conditioning test, each and every one of them. We didn’t have any issues at all. So clearly they left and worked hard and now they are excited to be back.”
Amongst the players reporting for work on Monday, only a pair didn’t participate in Monday’s workout and both were offensive linemen. Fourth-round draft pick Barrett Joneshttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif and offensive tackle Braden Brownhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif did not practice.
Jones is still recovering from a foot injury that kept him out of spring drills and has been placed on the active non-football injury list. Fisher said he expects Jones to be ready to go in a week or two and Jones said he is feeling great and just needs to be cleared for contact before he can return.
Meanwhile, undrafted free agent running back Benny Cunninghamhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif has been cleared to return to action after missing the spring with a knee injury.
“They have taken physicals,” Fisher said. “Any of the guys that have had anything carry over into the summer were examined yesterday with the doctors.”
The impetus for getting the rookies in a couple of days early was set to allow them to get a chance to get their feet under them before the veterans arrive.
In the spring, the pace of the OTAs and practices is much slower and can create more of a learning environment as systems are installed and questions are asked. But that time is meant to serve as a sort of buffer for youngsters to get acclimated.
When training camp begins, there’s precious little time to take the foot off the gas which is why Fisher insists on his players coming in not only in shape physically but sharp mentally as well.
“They have all got unique, different jobs to do,” Fisher said. “The positions are different. The expectations on them vary but the most important thing is No. 1 they come in in shape and they know what to do and then get as many reps as we can afford to give them. With the limitations now and the way camp is, it’s hard to get reps. That’s why we pick up a couple extra practices with these guys.”
First-round draft choice Tavon Austinhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif said he arrived back in St. Louis excited to get back to work. He spent his summer vacation working with veteran NFL receivers like Brandon Marshall and Antonio Brown along with teammate and fellow wideout Stedman Baileyhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif.
Austin also joined a large contingent of fellow Rams wideouts, backs and tight ends in Oklahoma for some workouts with quarterback Sam Bradfordhttp://www.stlouisrams.com/assets/nf...ticle-link.gif.
When Austin wasn’t working out, he was making sure he kept his head in his playbook. Although he said he didn’t review it every day, he made sure he spent an hour and a half or so in every session he had with the playbook.
For Austin, the staying in shape part came easy. It was the mental side that proved more taxing given the differences between the offense he played in at West Virginia and the one the Rams use.
“The beginning it was kind of different just because at West Virginia we used signals and now it’s just words but it’s slowing down for me a little bit and I’m getting there,” Austin said. “It’s totally different…it’s just repetition and getting it down pat.”
On Wednesday night, the veterans will officially report for training camp before joining the rookies on the practice field for Thursday’s first session.
It’s evident to Fisher that many of his older players are eager to return given that many of them showed up at Rams Park on Monday morning. A handful of the veterans even went outside to cheer on their rookie teammates during the conditioning tests.
“It would appear that this break has been very productive for us and our guys got together on their own also,” Fisher said. “(We’re) looking forward to Thursday and getting on the field.”