By Nick Wagoner Senior Writer

Rams Set for Senior Bowl

Whether by design or sheer happenstance, the Rams emerged from the 2012 NFL Draft with four players in their class who all had one thing in common.

Despite coming from schools large and small located all over the country, the quartet of receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, running back Isaiah Pead and cornerback Janoris Jenkins were all participants in last year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

This year’s Senior Bowl week begins on Monday with the North and South teams set to have their first fully padded practices that day, followed by more padded work Tuesday and Wednesday leading into the game a week from Saturday.

For the Rams, the Senior Bowl is far from the first time they’ll see some of the nation’s top senior players. But it is, perhaps, the jewel of what general manager Les Snead calls the “all star season,” the biggest of the many all-star games played around the country.

It’s also a prime opportunity to dig deeper into a group of players that for the most part has put forth a complete body of work on the field.

“You want to go into it knowing what you think the player is and then figure out what the questions are that need answered,” Snead said. “Can they be answered at the Senior Bowl?”

At least based on the work the Rams did at last year’s Senior Bowl, the answer to that question is yes. Although he was not named general manager until Feb. 14, Snead was still working in Mobile last year for the Atlanta Falcons.

Taylor Morton, the Rams college scouting director, was working with Snead in Atlanta and they were doing the same legwork they will do this week.

The body of work a player puts on tape during his college career is the foundation for which all players are evaluated but that doesn’t mean new things can’t be gleaned from the chance to see players in a more competitive environment.

In fact, for some, the Senior Bowl can be the first opportunity to face competition commensurate to their skills.

“Sometimes it’s the first time a lot of these guys go against guys that are as good and as confident as them so it’s nice to see the competitive nature of that,” Snead said.

Quick was a prime example of that last year. Coming out of tiny Appalachian State, Quick had proved he had game breaking ability as a wideout but he hadn’t exactly done it against top tier corners.

The other side of that coin is the fact that NFL coaching staffs serve as the coaches for the week and they ask their players to learn a new offensive scheme for the first time in a long time.

“From practice one to practice last, you like to see how guys evolve and get comfortable,” Snead said. “Are they still behind at the end of the week? That can tell you a lot, how long did it take the guy to process and get on the same page and do his thing?”

Flummoxed early in the week as he adjusted to the increased competition and the difficult task of learning a foreign offensive scheme (even a toned down one for the short week), Quick impressed Snead by making strides every day.

"Knowing where Brian comes from, you saw exactly what you thought would happen,” Snead said. “He’s thrown out there the first day of practice and he looks lost. By the end of the week, he’s gotten better. So you say that is probably going to be what happens here. When you go from 1-AA to that level of competition and now to this level of competition.”

In Jenkins’ case, it had already been established that he could play with the best of the best in his time at Florida but after moving to North Alabama where he regularly dominated the lightened competition, Snead had questions on how he’d re-adjust to facing top players again.

Snead said he had already done plenty of legwork on Jenkins both on and off the field so the only question was if he could ratchet up his play to face off against top wideouts like Givens in that setting.

“What I think we got out of it with him was ‘OK, he had been at Florida, you had seen him go against AJ Green and Julio (Jones),’ then all of a sudden he’s at North Alabama and he goes against you just don’t know who,” Snead said. “So it was good to see him get back against some of the better receivers.”

The other moving part that can be evaluated from the football aspect is the fact that some players simply are ‘gamers’ or guys that may not wow you on the practice field but tend to show up when the lights of the game go on.

“You may invest in a player and know that they aren’t going to play in a game a long time but you go ‘Hey, remember, this guy is not as good in practice as he is in the game,’” Snead said. “So all of those things help you when you evaluate a player but also when you acquire a player and help you develop a player also.”

Pead could be a perfect example of that type of player. After an average week in practice leading to last year’s game, Pead showed up big in the game on his way to its Most Valuable Player honors. With a rookie season marred by the rule that kept him from attending most of the offseason program as his college class had yet to graduate, Pead didn’t get many opportunities as a rookie but the Rams still project him as a contributor moving forward.

“I think you were able to see him make plays (in the Senior Bowl),” Snead said. “Running backs, you see the natural run skills because there’s very few plays, things are simple so you are able to see him make plays and not necessarily be schemed open or what have you. I think those things stand out.”

This year’s game again features players from all over the country including such recognizable names as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, Michigan quarterback turned receiver Denard Robinson, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. Jones will not play because of foot surgery but will be in attendance.

The Oakland coaching staff will be in charge of the North team while Detroit will take care of the South squad.

Armed with the 16th and 22nd pick in the first round in addition to their other selections in each of the following rounds, the Rams find themselves in a prime spot where many of the top seniors figure to be available.

Traditionally, the top 10 or so of the draft largely consists of early declarations but the mid to late teens can be a senior heavy area making this year’s trip to the Senior Bowl even more likely to yield a Senior Bowl participant for the Rams with one of their two picks.

“I think what you usually get with a senior football player is they kind of are who they are, they are sound, what you see is probably what you are going to get,” Snead said. “A lot of times with a junior, redshirt sophomore a guy like (Michael) Brockers, you have got to project a little bit because you have to say ‘This is what they look like now, if they would have played another year, can we compare him to this player and what did he look like when he was just a redshirt sophomore?’ I think that’s what the Senior Bowl is. These guys are who they are, they are mature, they are men.”