Tuesday, May 3, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Most of the talk around the Rams’ rookie mini-camp this weekend revolved around the idea of learning.

Textbooks were compared to playbooks, meeting rooms were known as classrooms and football players were students. As St. Louis wrapped up its rookie mini-camp on Sunday and everyone headed their separate ways, education was the order of the day.

“The neatest thing is that these guys come into the league to learn” coach Mike Martz said. “They are completely open. You have an opportunity to bring these guys in what you think is the right way. You give them a great opportunity for success. We have a different approach than some people with rookies. We try to create the best environment for these guys as we possibly can. There is a lot of stress involved for a young player in this league with all the media attention, which is different from 15 years ago. You try to do as much for them as you can.”

The group of 23 draftees and undrafted free agents spent little time actually on the field this weekend. Rather, most of that time was spent in meeting rooms. With no veterans in town for this camp, that left the entire coaching staff to tend to the rookies, creating a ratio of nearly one coach for every player.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, drafted in the seventh round out of Harvard, had the benefit of working with one, sometimes two and occasionally three coaches at a time. At various points, Fitzpatrick had quarterback coach John Ramsdell, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and Martz working with him.

Those lessons ranged from footwork to technique to improving his delivery.

“There was a lot thrown at us at once,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was good to get in here and learn from the quarterback coach. I can sit down and learn it at a slow pace. When the veterans come in, they teach the smartest guy. They teach the guy that knows the most so there’s not going to be a lot of individual, slow type stuff.”

Martz estimates that the group spent about 12 hours a day in the classroom and a total of about 30 hours in meetings over the course of the weekend.

Guard Claude Terrell, who was slightly overwhelmed Friday when he learned that the Rams had about seven times as many protections as he had at New Mexico, said the offensive linemen only made it through about 20 of those and he was still trying to keep the ones he did learn straight.

Terrell said it is especially important to get the mental aspects down as soon as possible.

“Everything I learned, I will try to retain as much as possible,” Terrell said. “Then all of the things coach jumped me about, I will try to fix all of those things so when I come back he doesn’t have to jump me. We just want to stay as long as possible. The next day won’t be guaranteed to you when camp comes so you have got to make the most of every day so you don’t get that pink slip.”

With that in mind, the group will go home for the next couple weeks, which will be spent refining what was learned and working out.

St. Louis will have its full-squad mini-camp June 3-5, but in the meantime, the team will have organized team activities, also known as OTAs. OTAs are simple individual or seven-on-seven workouts that last about 30 minutes each. The OTAs before the June mini-camp will be slightly watered down according to Martz, with little to no competitive scenarios.

After that mini-camp, the OTAs will become the more substantial workouts that will keep everyone involved. As for the full-squad mini-camp, rookies can’t participate in those until the end of the semester of their respective schools.

Fitzpatrick and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe are the only players that might have conflicting schedules, Martz said. Fitzpatrick is scheduled to graduate June 9 with the end of classes coming during the last few days of May.

In the meantime, all of the young players will spend more time doing what they did the most of this weekend, learning.

“It’s a very intelligent class,” Martz said. “You can see that in the classroom when you watch them. They transfer it out here. You get a sense of the personalities — the competitiveness and the intensity. We kind of overload them mentally right now, and it’s kind of on purpose. You kind of see how they deal with it. From a mental aspect, this is a pretty unusual. They’ve soaked up an awful lot of information.”