Strauss: A favorable wind greets opening of Rams camp
July 26, 2013 12:10 am
Whether because of the landfill down the road or the too-familiar in-house product, folks around Rams Park know what stink is. And this ain’t about stink.
The Rams opened full-squad workouts Thursday on a perfect afternoon. Instead of a sauna, players encountered a slice of May.
Rather than go about installing yet another offensive system under yet another first-year coordinator, quarterback Sam Bradford referred to the same playbook for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
Instead of talking about how to improve upon a coach-killing 2-14 record, the Rams could point to last season’s 7-8-1 platform under coach Jeff Fisher.
The Rams did what they could to create a festive atmosphere for fans lining the field’s south side or those partaking of a shopping or interactive experience in the parking lot.
Yes, this was just practice — the first practice — but many among the crowd of 1,755 cheered when receiver Chris Givens briefly controlled a Bradford deep ball before somersaulting against a barricade behind the end zone.
Bradford repeatedly threw long, often against a defense quickly impressed by this spring’s infusion of speed. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis admitted difficulty keeping up, a compliment rarely thrown at the Rams’ offense in recent seasons.
This wasn’t contrived pulse but something real — quick tempo mixed with high energy.
“We’ve talked as receivers about dictating on the field,” Givens said following the two-hour session. “We come out with the mindset we’re going to dictate how this day goes, how we practice and how we prepare. It’s going to be full speed.”
A year ago the Rams were trying to shake off stink. They did it playing in the league’s toughest division with the league’s youngest roster. Watching rookie receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and outside linebacker Alec Ogletree do their thing Thursday, one realizes this roster could skew even younger.
Absent signature rusher Steven Jackson, defensive end Chris Long ranks as team greybeard as he enters his sixth season. Only 19 players in camp have played at least three NFL seasons. Only nine could be found in Earth City in 2010.
Bradford looked around and spoke of camp as “part of the evolution.”
Jackson’s departure to Atlanta leaves the quarterback as the unmistakable face of this offense. Into his second season with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Bradford can embrace a scheme as second nature rather than as if cramming for a morning test.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a different feeling with this offense this year,” Bradford said.
“It’s a good group (of receivers) around him now,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to protect him, which we feel we can.”
Thursday’s entertainment value spiked because of an abundance of deep routes. Bradford, skimming rarely-used pages of the playbook, threw with precision.
“We’re coming out with a mentality that we’re trying to win a game every single day,” asserted Givens, a second-year breakout waiting to happen given a more vertical approach. “If that means going deep five out of six plays, then that’s what we’re going to do. If that means running the ball five out of six plays, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Rams can’t do anything about being aligned in the NFC West alongside the conference champion San Francisco ***** and formidable Seattle Seahawks.
They can, however, point to last season’s combined 2-1-1 record against those teams as proof of sounder footing.
“We had a lot of ups and downs last year. But we had a lot of positive things. If we prepare the way we need to, we can be a pretty good team in this league,” Givens said. “All you hear is talk about the Seahawks and the ***** and how good they are. Especially as receivers, we feel disrespected by that.
“Look at the film and we played those guys pretty good. We know what we can do.”
Every summer brings expectation. For the first time in forever the Rams have found traction.
“We have evidence to believe,” said Long. “We have reason to believe. Some of these things are tangible… the reasons we believe we’re going to have a better year.”
They have reason to believe that a postseason berth will still be plausible upon reaching a five-Sunday December. Finding a lead running back is on the to-do list. So is locating stability at safety.
“We don’t want to fall back this year,” emphasized right tackle Roger Saffold, who manned the left side until the acquisition of free agent Jake Long in March. “Now that we have the foundation we want to really go. We want to hit the ground sprinting. Today is Day 1. You expect to see a lot of mess-ups and rust from the offseason. But we’re getting off clean plays and clean throws downfield. We’re doing things well already.”
Too often summer here becomes a season of false hope. Time passes and the locals tend to forgive unsightly blemishes that ruined the previous season. An August narrative morphs into a tragedy by November.
Fisher, however, prefers reality over happy talk. The organization has gone young without going bad. A productive free-agent season coupled with a universally applauded draft reinforces last season’s progress. The Rams no longer talk around weaknesses. They address them.
“We’ve got a good start. We’ve got a ways to go. We’re not satisfied by any means,” Fisher said.
A few hours later the wind shifted and the stink returned. Blame it this time on the landfill.