New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo promised his team the first few days of training camp would be "a bear," and while the weather wasn't too hot and the two-a-days had just one practice each day in full pads, the intensity was high as well as the hitting.
During the first two morning practices, the ones in full pads, there were about 30 plays with live tackling.

After the first day, Spagnuolo said, "We need to find out quickly - you've got to remember again it's a whole new staff and a lot of unknowns - really the only way to find out is to put them in those kind of situations. As we go along here every day we will decide how many of those periods will be live. It was really two periods and about 30 plays of live."

When questioned further by the media, Spagnuolo winked and said, "Do you think it was tough? I didn't think it was that tough. It was physical."

Of course, Spagnuolo did admit to something else: "I'm doing this every time. I've got my hands behind my back (crossing fingers)."

Said linebacker Will Witherspoon, "Usually you don't go live that first day of pads but it's good. You really want to get the feel of hitting again, striking guys again. That was kind of the key point of it and getting the feel of hitting through a guy. It was great. I think it was good for everybody to come out here and just get moving and get in the momentum of the game."

Added cornerback Ron Bartell, "One thing I have learned over the years is that it's a lot easier to be hard on guys and then kind of back off than it is to be light and try to get hard on guys again. I think he knows what he's doing. He knows when to let up. Right now, it's day two so I think we'll be fine."

The hitting even included running back Steven Jackson.

"He's got to get hit, everybody else has got to get hit," linebacker Chris Draft said. "We have got to get ready too. Right now, that's what we have. We have our chance to get out here, run to the ball and be able to tackle the ball. It doesn't matter who has it."

Players have been running to the ball, gang tackling, and picking up even incomplete passes to run with it to get in the mindset of creating turnovers and making plays. While the defense has been maligned in recent seasons, Spagnuolo believes there's more there than is realized.

"I think we've got guys with that kind of attitude," he said. "I do believe that. We've got to keep healthy. (But) we've got to do the things out here to kind of get ready for the competition that we're going to face going forward."

Concluded Bartell, "You better have some attitude. I don't think we've carried the attitude the past couple years that we should've had, and we paid for it on the field. So (the coaches) are coming in, they're instilling a new attitude, new philosophy. We're just buying in."

Meanwhile, on the second day of hitting, Spagnuolo let it be known he wasn't totally pleased, calling it "sluggish" at times.

He said, "I will tell you what I told them at the end: We try to condition in practice; we don't do it after. And there were some moments in there that I thought were a little bit slow or a little bit walking around. So I fed it to them, and hopefully they'll respond."


CAMP CALENDAR: The Rams will have a scrimmage at Lindenwood University the evening of Aug. 7 at 6:30. Camp breaks on Aug. 23 following the second preseason game.

NOTES, QUOTES

—Just before the start of camp, the Rams signed 14-year veteran defensive tackle Hollis Thomas to a one-year contract. Thomas has been released by the Saints April 28 after failing his physical, but spent time with the Eagles when Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was Philadelphia's linebackers coach. He also played high-school football in St. Louis.

Thomas is listed as 335 pounds, but seems well above that.

Said Thomas, "I'm very excited to be home with Spags. When I found out they were interested, I jumped right on it. He likes hogs up front. I know I'm massive. Physically, I'm OK. I have to shed a couple pounds, get in shape; work myself to get in shape. Nothing in life is easy. This is a tough situation that you have to go through. As you get older, pound don't come off so easily."

Asked about Thomas' potential role, Spagnuolo said, "Hollis is a guy that I have a little bit of history with and he's a big defensive tackle who's played a lot of football in the league. I've been saying it to the team, and I've been saying it to everybody, it does start up front. We'll see what he can do. He's been away from football for a little bit. We've got to remember he didn't go through OTAs so he's probably got to knock some rust off but I think he'll be fine.

"He's always been a really good run defender. He's a very, very smart football player. The last experience I had with him he'd find ways to get everybody lined up so that was attractive to us."

—Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who grew up in the Minneapolis area, holds a "camp" each year prior to training camp, working out intensely with other NFL players.

Rams rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis, who also grew up there, was there for almost the entire month of July.

Said Laurinaitis, "Larry and I have kind of known each other just from being Minnesota high school football products. There's not many of us in the NFL. ... He's just a great guy, willing to help. I wanted to go home and see my family, and to train with a world-class athlete like him was fun."

—New center Jason Brown was somewhat graphic in describing what it's like to become comfortable with a new quarterback taking the center snap.

Said Brown, "Mainly it's him getting to know my rear end, and him being comfortable with his hands underneath my rear end ... He's checking my oil every day.''

Brown was previously in Baltimore where Rams backup Kyle Boller was one of the quarterbacks. Of course, when Boller takes snaps now, it's with the second-unit center.

Added Brown, "I'm used to Kyle being under there in Baltimore. When you have a new guy back there, it's like, 'Easy buddy, be gentle.' Some guys like to really get under there and raise their hands up, and it's like, 'Hey, I'm a person.' ''

—Owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez were on hand for the team's full-squad practice July 31. Rosenbloom left the following day, but Rodriguez and husband Lupe were on hand again Sunday.

Their son, Will Rodriguez, is a scouting assistant for the Rams.

—When OTAs began in May, wide receiver Keenan Burton was with the first unit, along with Donnie Avery. However, during the first week of OTAs, Burton suffered hamstring injury and didn't participate for the remainder of the spring.

Thus, when camp opened, Laurent Robinson was a No. 1 receiver. Burton was on the second unity with Tim Carter. Last season as a rookie, Burton was bothered by a knee injury most of the season.

He said, "Some things, you just can't help. You prepare, you work hard, you lift as hard as you possibly can. I definitely feel a need to stay healthy and be out here to compete."

As for the hamstring problem, Burton said, "That was devastating. But I can't get frustrated ... just got to keep chipping away. It's feeling good; everything's a go. I'm trying to shake off the cobwebs, get back into it and just have fun."

—During the one day of "short-squad" practice, rookie Chris Ogbonnaya was the only running back on the field. To give him a rest at times, backup quarterbacks Keith Null and Brock Berlin ran some plays as the running back.

Ogbonnaya got a lot of work, and liked it.

"Just to get that one-on-one time with coach (Sylvester) Croom is good," Ogbonnaya said. "Without all the other running backs, you can talk to him a little more. It definitely helped."

QUOTES TO NOTE: "I knew exactly where I was going when I was a defensive coordinator. Here, I've got to kind of bounce all over the place. I was just trying to get my eyes on everything." - Coach Steve Spagnuolo on the difference in practice as a coordinator compared to being the head coach.

—"I didn't sleep real good (last night), I'll be honest with you. You're just anxious. You remember when you were little and it was Christmas? You're waking up every hour. Honestly, that's about what it was like. I can't say it's just another day. It was exciting for me. But you know ... I just think about the next thing. Usually, it's at the end of it that I can say, 'Yeah, that was pretty special.'" - Spagnuolo on his first practice as a head coach.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Wide receiver Derek Stanley was anxious to get going during OTAs as he recovered from ACL surgery last season, but coaches held him out of team drills.

Stanley was good to go as camp opened, and participated in all practices, including the first two in full pads.

He said, "The knee's great, in real good shape. It's just a matter of being able to handle the load during these two-a-days. We'll have to gauge during camp how much I'll do, where I'll back off in places. But I think I'll definitely be ready to go."

Stanley's ticket to a roster spot is as the kickoff and punt returner, and in the early going, he is clearly the most comfortable candidate when it comes to catching punts and taking off.

"I definitely believe I can be a big key to this team in the return game," he said.

—WR Laurent Robinson, who was acquired in a trade from Atlanta before the draft, opened training camp as a starter. Robinson has good size and had a solid rookie season in 2007, but hardly played last year because of a hamstring injury.

—DE Leonard Little is intent on proving he is capable of being an every-down player again. Little has missed numerous games with injuries the last two seasons and will be 35 in October. He opened camp as the starter at left end.

—RB Kenneth Darby is currently the favorite to be the backup to Steve Jackson. Darby is a slashing-type runner that can also catch and pick up blitzes well.

—TE Daniel Fells makes a good catch in traffic every practice. A physical specimen, Fells has a chance to be a top-level player if he can play in games the way he does in practice.

—TE Joe Klopfenstein is in a battle for a roster spot. A second-round pick in 2006, Klopfenstein has regressed and was affected in the offseason by a wrist injury. After the first four practices he participated in, he missed the next two because of an adverse reaction to medication.

EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Larry Grant, David Vobora and possibly Chris Draft for starting job at strong-side LB: For now, Draft is in the middle with the first unit, but that is expected to last only until coaches feel rookie James Laurinaitis is ready to be the starting middle linebacker. The question then is whether Draft will remain a jack-of-all-trades backup or be the experienced hand at SAM linebacker. Grant, with the *****, and Vobora with the Rams were seventh-round picks last year.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: After Donnie Avery, the next four receiver spots are wide open. Tim Carter has opened some eyes, Ronald Curry is a recent addition, and Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton and Derek Stanley are also in the mix. Even guys like rookie Brooks Foster and free agents Sean Walker and Nate Jones have shown some promise early in camp.

ROOKIE REPORT: After Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis, cornerback Bradley Fletcher (third round) has been showing his athleticism and appears to be a player. He has been counseled several times on the sideline by coach Steve Spagnuolo ... DT Darell Scott (fourth round) has been with the second unit ... WR Brooks Foster (fifth round) had an acrobatic catch in Sunday's practice ... QB Keith Null (sixth round) has a fluid throwing motion, but needs to develop confidence and keep from aiming the ball. He is competing with Brock Berlin for the No. 3 job ... RB Chris Ogbonnaya (seventh round) runs hard and will get a chance in preseason games to show what he can do.

INJURY REPORT: G John Greco was held out of the opening practice of camp after he cramped up during the morning conditioning run. However, he was fine for the next four practices ... Tight end Joe Klopfenstein missed both practices Aug. 2 because of a reaction to medication ... CB Ron Bartell became dehydrated after the morning practice Aug. 2 and as a precaution was held out of the afternoon practice that day.