Saturday, August 4, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

With the first preseason game exactly a week away, the Rams are preparing for their first, true “live” action of this year’s training camp.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, the Rams will kick off their first scrimmage at the Russell Training Center. The scrimmage will involve full tackling, but likely won’t involve many of the team’s big name players.

The idea is to give the team a chance to hit and get used to the physical part of the game in preparation for next week’s preseason opener against Minnesota.

Coach Scott Linehan said the scrimmage is mainly a chance to get a look at some of the younger players in a simulated game.

“The first scrimmage is not unlike any of the practices,” Linehan said. “We want to come out and improve on things that maybe today we didn’t execute as well. But my biggest thing is, I want to see – we feel pretty comfortable with our first team players –actual football at scrimmage tempo with blocking and tackling and see when you turn the lights on who shows up.”

The scrimmage will feature live action for the second and third teams and players competing for roster spots. That doesn’t mean fans won’t be seeing any of the starters. The first units will work in a controlled setting similar to the team drills they run during a normal practice.

Once those drills are complete, it will be turned over to the backups and they will get their chance to shine.

“We will control the first part of it,” Linehan said.

The scrimmage is expected to last until about noon.

MOVING INSIDE: The Rams moved Friday’s afternoon practice session inside because of the extreme heat and field conditions on the back fields at Russell Training Center.

The practice was scheduled to be outside and open to the public, but the team did its best to accommodate the fans that arrived and allowed them to watch the practice in the indoor facility. It is the first time the team has hosted an indoor, open practice since the facility was built.

While it appeared to be a tight squeeze with the fans inside and the players and coaches so close, Linehan said the practice was basically unaffected by the presence of the fans.

“We just moved the team to the other side of the field,” Linehan said. “It really wasn’t uncomfortable. I thought it would be tight in here. I thought everyone handled themselves really well. It’s a pretty good experience for them to come in and see them up close.”

PROTECTING THE GAME: Each season, the NFL sends a crew of officials to a training camp site to give a presentation on rules, rule changes and points of emphasis. It’s also an opportunity for them to get some live action whether in a scrimmage or in team portions of practices.

This year, Walt Anderson and his crew are at the Russell Training Center and gave their yearly presentation to the media Friday afternoon. The crew arrived in time for Thursday’s evening practice and worked the team portions of that practice. They will stay in town until the end of Saturday’s scrimmage.

With the recent scrutiny placed on officials because of the situation in the NBA in which referee Tim Donaghy is being indicted on charges of gambling on games in which he was the referee, all officials in every sport are being watched more closely.

Anderson explained the NFL’s procedure for screening officials in Friday’s media session.

According to Anderson all officials are subject to psychological testing, security and background checks and the like before being hired.

“Those guys don’t care if you can officiate or not; what they’re looking for is skeletons in your closet,” Anderson said. “You have to pass those security and background checks before you get in, and once you get in, they keep going, pretty much every year.”

After they are hired, they are closely monitored and are subject to testing at any time, including drug testing.

“My bank calls me all the time,” Anderson said. “The NFL is trying to be pro active and does everything it can to protect the integrity of the game. I’m not sure what else they could do.”

RAM BITS: Linebacker Chris Draft completed his second full practice and first full pad practice Friday afternoon…Linebacker Tim McGarigle (hamstring), tight end Joe Klopfenstein (hamstring), tackle Ken Shackleford (knee) and wide receiver Lamart Barrett (shoulder) sat out Friday’s workout and won’t likely be available for the scrimmage…Defensive tackle Tim Sandidge returned to the practice field as did linebacker Jon Alston. Both participated in Thursday’s evening practice and again Friday afternoon…Long time St. Louis Post Dispatch Rams beat writer Jim Thomas became ill mid-afternoon Thursday and missed his first practice since 1999. Not to worry, one of the hardest working men in the business started a new streak Friday…Jonathan Wade continues to work a lot in the nickel packages and it appears the Rams coaching staff would really like for him to win the job.