Saturday, May 12, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Like any first day of school, the first day of practice for the Rams’ newest crop of rookies featured plenty of mistakes, but just as much enthusiasm.

The 32 Rams on the field Saturday morning had their fair share of struggles along the way through their first two NFL practices, but coach Scott Linehan was pleasantly surprised by the performance of his newest additions.

“Actually, it was outstanding,” Linehan said. “It’s a great group of guys. They were a little nervous this morning. I was really happy with the approach. They maintained tempo, nobody is complaining.”

Not that complaining would get any of the youngsters anywhere in their first foray into professional football. The morning practice opened with plenty of enthusiasm, but an obvious need for organization and understanding.

Clearly, none of these players had spent much time together and had spent most of Friday with their heads buried in their playbooks. That made some of the little things, like knowing where to go on the field and when, slightly more difficult.

Cornerback Jonathan Wade took notice of the increased tempo and speed of an NFL practice right away.

“This is the NFL,” Wade said. “Everyone is here because they were blessed enough to be skilled at their position. No one is average here. Everyone is very good at their craft. You have to perform every single snap. That play that you want to take off in college or that snap in practice, that is not going to happen, especially not at camp because if you do and you continue to you will be sent home.”

That fear of being sent home is enough to make any rookie work harder. The biggest issue for most rookies in their first NFL practice is conditioning. With behemoths such as tackle Ken Shackleford and defensive tackle Clifton Ryan, there were plenty of deep breaths and water breaks to be had.

Still, Linehan was happy with the way everyone competed. The only true casualty of the day came in the form of a sprained medial collateral ligament for offensive tackle Anthony James. James was signed Saturday morning and suffered the injury in the morning session.

Ryan also was banged up in the afternoon session, but continued to play despite the injury.

Getting through the first day relatively injury free was a good sign, but Linehan was just as happy with his team’s learning curve.

“I think what’s amazing to me is that in a 24 hour period of time, we were able to put in 50 plays on offense and 20-30 defensive calls in and come out here and have maybe one offsides by both sides,” Linehan said. “It wasn’t too bad. I think the organization of those guys, getting in their books and coming out here today was pretty good.”

Helping matters for the rookies is the fact that they can lean on each other when they need help. Since there are no veterans around, everyone is learning at the same pace and starting from the same spot.

“With the veterans here, it’s like I got to catch up,” Wade said. “But when you are on the same page – we all received the same book this morning, we all turned to the same page, we are all going over the same thing – it makes you feel better and it gives you a little more time.”

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: In the weeks leading up to the draft, Linehan had trouble containing his admiration for defensive lineman Adam Carriker.

Of course, Carriker ended up falling in the team’s lap with the 13th pick and now he is in St. Louis for his first minicamp. And, after two practices, Linehan is once again having trouble containing his excitement.

“I will reserve my optimism without sounding like I’m impressed,” Linehan said. “But I’m pretty impressed with this guy. I felt really good about our ability to draft him two weeks ago, but now that he’s here and being able to see him in a Rams uniform, confirms why we felt so strongly about him. I think he’s going to be very special.”

Carriker lined up at defensive tackle for both of the day’s workouts and pretty much did whatever he wanted to the players assigned to block him.

FRIENDLY COMPETITION: While the Rams did as much as they could to boost the interior of their defensive line in the NFL Draft, there are not a ton of open spaces on the roster for defensive tackles.

With the return of La’Roi Glover, Claude Wroten and Jimmy Kennedy and the addition of Adam Carriker, it’s likely that two of the team’s other draftees will be gunning for a potential roster spot in the middle.

Fifth-round choice Clifton Ryan and seventh-rounder Keith Jackson met at the Senior Bowl and hit it off instantly. After all, they had plenty in common. Both are large, run stuffing tackles capable of taking on multiple blockers and freeing up linebackers to make plays.

Of course, when they were hanging out in Mobile, they probably didn’t expect to be competing for the same job. Now, the duo is forced to deal with remaining friends while fighting for a spot.

“It is going to be pretty tough but you have to go out there business like and at the end of the day if you leave it all on the field, it’s up to the coaches who they want to give that spot to,” Jackson said.

CARRYING THE LOAD: With 32 players in minicamp, 28 of whom are rookies, there are barely enough players to have a full scrimmage. But because of the need to have at least enough players to fill out the offensive and defensive lines, the Rams are a bit short in numbers at other positions.

Quarterback Drew Tate is the only signal caller in camp, which isn’t unusual for the rookie minicamp. But it does mean that Tate will have a tired arm come Monday morning.

Slightly unusual, though, is the lack of running backs attending the minicamp. Second-round choice Brian Leonard is handling the bulk of the carries as he learns his hybrid running back position. Brad Lau is the only other back on the roster, but is a fullback.

“We only have two backs right now so I am running in single back and halfback so I will be the running back unless we get another running back in here,” Leonard said. “It’s nice to get the reps, but it is tiring.”

Running back Robert Hubbard was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Nevada, but Hubbard failed a physical. The team signed James to replace him.

RAM BITS: The NFL officially released the final pieces of the preseason schedule Friday. The Rams’ third preseason game, against Oakland, has been set for Aug. 24 at 9 p.m CST…The NFL Network is in the house this weekend filming for its “Inside Minicamp” with the Rams. The program is set to air Sunday night at 7 p.m…The four first-year veterans in the minicamp are punter Freddie Capshaw, receiver Marques Hagans, linebacker Tim McGarigle and tackle Drew Strojny…