By Nick Wagoner
More than anything, the past three days of minicamp work for the Rams was the first step in laying the foundation for what coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney imagine the team becoming.
It wasn’t about trying to cram in as many plays as possible or figuring out who the captains will be. Instead, it was an opportunity to set the tempo and pace for how things will be accomplished around the Russell Training Center for the foreseeable future.
As the Rams wrapped up the first minicamp under Spagnuolo on Saturday afternoon, he considers that mission accomplished.
“There was a lot of great energy and a lot of great effort which I appreciated,” Spagnuolo said. “I felt that way when I watched the end of last season. I always felt like there was tremendous effort and I thought they kept doing it these last few days which I think is big.”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been plenty happening around here in recent days. The meetings started early, the playbook study has been heavy and the effort has been intense.
“It appears that way,” Spagnuolo said. “There’s nothing out there that tells me they are not doing that which I think is a good sign. I think the coaches have done a great job preparing them from an organization’s point of view on exactly what we want and that was important to me. When you start out, you want it to take fire right away and guys did that. They really did.”
From a player’s perspective, this minicamp was the first step in perhaps the most important of Spagnuolo’s four pillars philosophy. It was the first on the field opportunity to build the team first mentality that Spagnuolo and his staff hope to implement.
Quarterback Marc Bulger said that was evident from the first meeting before camp began.
“We are upbeat,” Bulger said. “Guys are taking I think a lot more responsibility this year. We know there’s one goal right now and that’s to win games and ultimately the Super Bowl. It’s not about any individual Pro Bowls or upcoming contracts or next year or trying to build a foundation, it’s really winning games now and as a team that’s the constant message right now of unity and team and sticking together.”
From the coaching staff’s standpoint, it was an opportunity to get a look up close at the players that they had previously only known on film.
In building the roster, that’s an important step in knowing what some of the needs are, at least from the coaching staff’s perspective.
While schemes and specific plays weren’t the order of the day, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole believe they did get a better handle on what they are working with.
“We gave them some scheme but this camp, really the focus was to teach them how to practice, teach them the pace and the tempo,” Shurmur said. “Give them some scheme so we can see what they can learn and then we really focused on the fundamentals.”
Flajole was similarly impressed with his defensive group in how it approached the minicamp.
“I’m encouraged from an effort standpoint,” Flajole said. “Again, we are in shorts so you can’t make too many conclusions from that but I am excited about their effort. They seem to have really bought in to what we are trying to do.”
It was the team wide effort that earned the praise of Spagnuolo and his coordinators and when asked if there were any specific players who stood above the rest, the head coach said he simply wanted to know what his players were capable of.
“No specific guys (stood out),” Spagnuolo said. “All the coaches came out with a real open mind and really that’s what you want to do when you come in as a new staff. You don’t have pre determined notions of who can do what and who can’t do it. I did say this in a meeting; let’s find out what they can do. Let’s not focus as much on the things that they can’t do. When we go in here and sit and talk we will get a lot of what we can do.”
As for how the past few days might affect the way the Rams approach the April 25-26 NFL Draft, don’t expect it to have much if any impact on the team’s board.
Considering the practices weren’t full contact or really even padded, it’s hard to take enough away from five practices to make any major determinations.
“We are not going to alter our draft board based on what we see out here with guys running around in shorts and t-shirts,” Devaney said. “That wasn’t the intent. We didn’t think going in with these couple of practices that we’d find out guys and say ‘OK, forget about drafting this position or we need to move on to this position’ based off of practices. It was more just to get our feet wet with the players and coaches. It really has no effect on the draft.”
The only way it could affect the roster, according to Devaney, is at the bottom where the Rams brought in a number of players on a tryout basis. With some film of those guys to work on, Devaney said they will be measured against potential undrafted free agents the team could sign.
With the first minicamp out of the way, the players will turn their attention back to the offseason conditioning program while the coaches and personnel people will continue to focus on the draft.
After the draft, the team will re-convene for the second of three minicamps before the start of organized team activities (May 19) and the final minicamp.
RAMS ADD BOLLER: The Rams ended their search for a veteran quarterback on Saturday afternoon, signing Kyle Boller to bolster their depth at the position.
Terms of the deal were not immediately available.
“We are happy to add Kyle to our roster,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “We feel that he will be a valuable addition to our team.”
The addition of Boller ends the Rams’ search for a replacement for veteran Trent Green, who was released on Feb. 25 and served as the backup to Bulger.
Boller comes to the Rams with a solid resume after six years with Baltimore. The Ravens used the 19th choice of the 2003 NFL Draft on Boller and quickly installed him as the starter.
In his six seasons with the team, Boller started 42 games with 53 appearances, posting 7,846 passing yards with 45 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. Boller’s 7,846 passing yards are the most in Ravens history.
Boller’s best season came in 2004 when he threw for 2,559 yards with 13 touchdowns.
Coming out of California, Boller was known for his strong arm and ability to move in the pocket. He is expected to provide the Rams with a young backup to Bulger who still has some upside.
BULGER’S BEGINNING: Among the players working in the new scheme for the first time, perhaps none were as important as Bulger.
With five practices to evaluate his performance in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s new offense, the feedback on Bulger’s performance has been nothing but positive.
“I was pleased,” Shurmur said. “Marc showed me and us that he’s a good decision maker. He’s a very accurate passer and he can get the ball out when he needs to.”
For his part, Bulger was excited to return to the field with another opportunity to lead the Rams into the future.
“You just have to put it behind you whether it’s a play or a season or a game,” Bulger said. “As a quarterback you can’t let it bother you. Obviously I have been through two difficult years but again with the team mentality right now it would be selfish of me to start thinking about how rough it was and feeling sorry for myself. It’s a clean slate.”
BELL STAYS AT GUARD: There had been much speculation that guard Jacob Bell would be shifted outside to right tackle.
That move did not come to fruition, though, as Bell stayed at left guard the entire weekend.
“We left him at left guard,” Shurmur said. “He played out there and did a nice job. Typically linemen tend to move around. Those guards play tackle, tackles play guard, that’s something they will all have to do but he did a nice job.”
Adam Goldberg took the bulk of the repetitions with the top offense at right tackle with Alex Barron sliding over to left tackle.
MCMICHAEL RETURNS: Tight end Randy McMichael suffered a broken right leg and tore ligaments in the leg in October of last season. That gruesome injury ended his season and made his return unknown.
Sure enough, the fiery and passionate McMichael was back on the field for this weekend’s minicamp, earning the respect of his new offensive coordinator along the way.
“Randy did a nice job,” Shurmur said. “He showed up all three days making plays. He caught a touchdown today so I am pleased with what he’s going to be to this team. He did a good job working on his blocking and I think he can be an all around tight end for us.”