Vacation will soon be over for Rams ..
BY JIM THOMAS
Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The down time has dwindled to a precious few days for the 2010 Rams. Rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans report a week from Wednesday, and the first-full squad practice of training camp is Saturday, July 31 at Rams Park.
Over the next few days, coaches will start checking in after a few weeks of vacation time. (Special teams coordinator Tom McMahon was in the building Monday.) In little more than a week, the players will follow suit.
Between now and then, some unfinished business remains for Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations, most notably getting No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford — the quarterback from Oklahoma — under contract. As of Monday, second-round pick Rodger Saffold, the offensive tackle from Indiana, also remained unsigned. Although the Rams have yet to make an official announcement, tight end Fendi Onobun, the sixth-rounder from Houston, has agreed to terms, and his signing should be announced soon by the club.
Negotiations with Bradford intensified Friday when Demoff met with Bradford agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of the St. Louis-based CAA Football agency. There's no reason to believe that Bradford won't be in training camp on time, give or take a day or two. Condon does not have a history of holding out clients; and Demoff's track record in signing players has been good so far during his brief tenure in St. Louis.
Last year's first-rounder, No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith, missed one day of work a year ago, encompassing two practices for rookies and selected veterans only. But Smith, who is also represented by Dogra and Condon, was signed in time for the first full-squad meeting of camp and was on the field for the first full-squad practice. Last year's second-round pick, linebacker James Laurinaitis, agreed to terms about 36 hours earlier than Smith. So the two remaining unsigned draft picks figure to get signed sooner rather than later.
The larger question is can Bradford show enough during training camp and preseason play to be the Rams' opening day starter Sept. 12 against visiting Arizona? Coach Steve Spagnuolo was on the conservative side last season when it came to starting rookies. As Spagnuolo puts it, he must be convinced that Bradford gives the team its best chance to win before installing him as the starter.
There doesn't seem to be much doubt that Bradford has the physical tools to be a starting NFL quarterback. But can he show enough grasp of the offense to be ready by opening day?
Even if things go smoothly for Bradford, subplots abound on offense, beginning on the line where youngsters Smith at left tackle and Saffold at right tackle are the projected starters. Smith still has a lot to prove after a rookie season in which he missed half the season with a knee injury and a concussion. Smith also missed the tail end of the offseason program, including the mandatory minicamp in mid-June, after suffering a fractured toe June 8. Had the toe injury occurred during the season, Smith would have missed considerable playing time. Safford, meanwhile, missed the last three weeks of the offseason program with a knee injury.
In the backfield, Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson must show he is back in form following back surgery in April. The team still doesn't have a proven backup for Jackson, although former Philadelphia Eagles star Brian Westbrook, who made a free-agent visit to Rams Park over draft weekend, remains on the market.
At wide receiver, the Rams must have one or more of their young receivers step up, be it Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson or even rookie Mardy Gilyard. Otherwise, it won't matter how talented Bradford is with the football.
On defense, the biggest issues are stopping the run, generating a pass rush and consistent cornerback play. The addition of veteran tackle Fred Robbins should help the run defense if Robbins has anything left in the tank after 10 NFL seasons. As far as the pass rush is concerned, the Rams drafted three ends (Hall Davis, Eugene Sims, and George Selvie), although none earlier than Round 5. The Rams would love to hit on at least one of those three.
Meawhile, veteran free agent Leonard Little, who has been working out on his own in Charlotte, N.C., while pondering retirement, might still be an option as a situational pass rusher. The prognosis at cornerback improves if Bradley Fletcher is fully recovered from his season-ending knee injury last Oct. 25 against Indianapolis and ready to go by opening day.
In addition to what transpires on the field in late July, August and early September, the Rams' ownership situation could finally be resolved. The NFL finance committee is expected to meet via conference call in the near future to discuss Stan Kroenke's bid to purchase the 60 percent of the team currently for sale by siblings Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez. The finance committee must make a recommendation to the full ownership on Kroenke's bid. When and if that happens, Kroenke's bid could be approved before Bradford takes the field — or doesn't take the field — as the opening day starter less than eight weeks from now.