Rams set for two-day rookie 'orientation'
BY JIM THOMAS
Friday, May 11, 2012
Under the new collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, the traditional rookie minicamp is more like rookie orientation. Instead of the usual five practices over three days, Rams rookies will practice only twice over two days beginning this afternoon at Rams Park.
"A minicamp is where guys are flying around just like madmen all over the practice field," coach Jeff Fisher said. "But this is an orientation. They're not going to do that. We're going to learn not only the football — but the concept of how we practice, how we install. They're going to find out about the training room, the weight room, community relations, player development, meet the coaches."
The routine today and Saturday will consist of an installation period, a walk-through, meetings, weightlifting, and a short practice (about 1 hour, 15 minutes).
All along, the coaches will evaluate things like how well the rookies retain information. During the brief practice, the players will be introduced to what the Rams' individual drills are like under Fisher's staff.
"We're going to watch their movement skills, assess their conditioning levels," Fisher said.
Some NFL teams held their rookie minicamps a week ago, but under the new rules, those players then had to return home and couldn't return to their NFL team facilities until May 14. By bringing the rookies in this weekend, they can stay for the next six-plus weeks without interruption.
That's because the full-squad spring practices known as OTAs begin Tuesday, and with the exception of a Memorial Day week break, those practices continue into early June followed by the Rams' mandatory full-squad minicamp June 12-14.
After that June minicamp, the veterans are dismissed until the start of training camp in late July. The rookies stay on until June 28 for two more weeks of conditioning and classroom work.
Fisher has no problem with the revised setup under the new CBA, and he doesn't mind going "easy" on the rookies this weekend.
"If you compare what they've been doing to our veterans in our offseason program, there's a huge gap," Fisher said. "Our veterans have been working out four days a week, full speed, skill development (since April 2). And they're really coming along well.
"These (rookies), no fault of their own, they're just not in shape because of the draft, because of the travel. So if you're not careful, you're going to go out and you're going to subject them to injury and pulls. And then you lose 'em for the OTAs. You lose 'em for June. And then it's so hard to get caught up."
For draft prospects, part of the pre-draft process is almost like the banquet circuit, what with all the visits to team facilities. The rookies might think they're in shape, but for the most part they're not — not by NFL standards, anyway.
The Rams will have 39 players on the field today and Saturday: 10 draft picks, 24 undrafted rookies, four tryout players, and 2011 Rams practice squad member Tim Barnes. Barnes, a center from the University of Missouri, is needed this weekend because the Rams need another snapper.
The tryout players literally are trying out just for this weekend. Most teams bring in many more tryout players but Fisher doesn't feel that's necessary.
"We feel good about how we filled the roster spots for training camp," Fisher said. "And we just have a couple of roster spots (open on the offseason roster). I don't know, I heard they had 40 or 50 of 'em last year. It can be hectic."
Actually, it was 37 two years ago under Fisher's predecessor, Steve Spagnuolo — and that's a ton of tryout players. The rookie minicamp was canceled last season because of the lockout.
Besides, with their 24 undrafted rookies the Rams have about a dozen more than usual. In part, that's a response to the overall offseason roster limit being raised to 90 players from 80 this year. Fisher likes the potential of that group.
"For all intents and purposes, we're taking them to (training) camp," he said.
Rookies from colleges that use the quarter system and thus are still in session must leave Rams Park after the rookie minicamp. They can't return until their school's final examinations are complete. The only exception to that rule is if the rookie already has his degree.
As a result, running back Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati, punter John Hekker of Oregon State and tight end Cory Harkey of UCLA must leave after this weekend. Pead was a second-round draft pick; Hekker and Harkey are undrafted rookies.
• A late addition to the list of rookie free agents is tight end Jamie Childers of Coastal Carolina.
• It was reported previously that wide receiver T.J. Simpson of Arizona State might come in as an undrafted rookie. That's not the case; he's here on a tryout basis this weekend.