Since missing the opening days of training camp after reporting to camp over the target weight set forth by the Rams coaching staff, Rokevious Watkins has made a number of changes.
Obviously, a big part of those changes came in terms of his diet, his approach to working in the weight room and all that goes with shedding pounds. But when Watkins stepped on the scale earlier this week, it was clear why he’s gone from not being able to practice to being poised to potentially start week one Sunday in Detroit.
“I came in overweight,” Watkins said. “I was like 357 (pounds), I weighed in at 334 a couple days ago so I got my weight down where it needs to be. Now I am just trying to master the system and take in as much information as I can.”
The sooner Watkins can master, or at least get a good working grasp, on the offense, the sooner he is likely to contribute. After the Rams released guard Quinn Ojinnaka over the weekend, the vacancy sign above the left guard position began to flash brighter than ever.
With two practices between now and Sunday’s opener, the Rams have two obvious options to handle the job: the rookie Watkins or veteran utility lineman Robert Turner.
Watkins said Wednesday he hasn’t been informed of where he stands one way or the other yet but he’s not letting that decision affect his preparation for a Lions defense with a dominant front four.
“I haven’t been told,” Watkins said. “I am just going with the flow and taking the information from coach and just trying to learn as much as I can come Sundays, be as prepared as I can. If my number is called, I’ll be ready.”
In the span of little more than a month, Watkins has made great strides. After he was able to return to practice with the rest of the team, he found himself behind the curve at a position that seemed ripe for competition.
But that competition never materialized, at least not in terms of working with the first team. In fact, Watkins got few opportunities to work with the starting offense and had to slowly work his way up the depth chart.
Watkins cut out his favorite meal – hamburgers and french fries – and focused more on eliminating carbs and eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water.
Despite the weight loss, Watkins said he actually could stand to put some of it back on so long as he’s doing it the right way.
“I am nowhere near where I need to be,” Watkins said. “I have got a long way to go so I am just going to keep working at it.”
Watkins’ one month makeover hasn’t been limited to altering his diet and working on cardio. He’s quickly taken to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and been consistent in seeking help on technique from the Rams’ grizzled line coach.
“He helps me a lot,” Watkins said. “He helps me a whole lot because he is making it simpler for me to understand because there is a bunch of information that is new to me so I am able to pick up on it a little faster than normal so I’m just going to keep working and listening to everything he has to say and do everything he tells me to do.”
Considering Watkins’ size and run blocking abilities, he would seem to be a natural fit for the Rams offense. Nearly from the moment the Rams drafted him in the fifth round in April’s NFL Draft, he’s been groomed to take over one of the guard spots.
The question doesn’t seem to be if Watkins will be the Rams’ starting left guard but when. Whether it’s Watkins or Turner this week, coach Jeff Fisher said he feels good about the group of five the Rams will put on the field even if they aren’t as calm heading into what figures to be a hectic atmosphere in Detroit.
“I’m comfortable,” Fisher said. “They’re working well together, they’re communicating right now. I’m comfortable with the guys we have playing. It’s hard to find an offensive line that’s comfortable going to Detroit – I’ll put it that way – with the guys they’ve got.”
For his part, Watkins acknowledges that he’d love to be the starting left guard from week one but if he’s not he’ll continue pushing toward that goal.
“Oh, of course,” Watkins said. “I wouldn’t be playing football just to sit on the bench. That’s something I want but like I said, I am happy with my position. I am just going to keep working.”
INJURY REPORT: The Rams’ first official injury report of the season was released on Wednesday with no real surprises dotting the list.
In fact, the only names listed for the Rams were a trio of defensive tackles, all of whom as still recovering from previously known injuries. Rookies Michael Brockers (ankle) and Matt Conrath (knee) and veteran Darell Scott (knee) did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.
The extent of the injuries is unknown though it’s not expected that Brockers and Scott will be available this week against Detroit. Conrath’s status is unknown.
During Wednesday’s practice, Jermelle Cudjo and recent addition Kellen Heard got work next to Kendall Langford with the top defense. Of course, those two are the only other healthy defensive tackles on the roster, so that should come as no surprise.
For Detroit, a pair of starters in the secondary did not practice and also face uncertain statuses for this week. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) did not practice.
HUNTER’S FRESH START: While Watkins settle in to his spot at left guard, another Rams offensive lineman is just happy to be in St. Louis at all.
Tackle Wayne Hunter, whom the Rams acquired in a trade for Jason Smith just before the preseason finale against Baltimore, saw first-hand how difficult the pressure cooker of playing in front of the world’s largest media market can be.
After four years with the Jets, Hunter is excited to wipe the slate clean with the Rams.
“I think it’s what I needed,” Hunter said. “I think it’s what we both needed from what I heard, me and Jason. I wish him the best. I am going to make the best of this opportunity over here. It’s going to be fun.”
Hunter played against Baltimore within 48 hours of the Rams trading for him but was able to step in fine with the second unit because of his knowledge of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. Hunter played in the scheme for each of his four seasons in New York.
In 2011, Hunter became the Jets starter at right tackle and went through his share of struggles in pass protection after spending most of his time as a swing tackle and third tackle in short yardage situations.
It’s expected Hunter will play the latter role in St. Louis.
“(There’s) no chip on my shoulder,” Hunter said. “I just want to come here and participate. I want to help the team win. That’s all it is for me. There’s no chip on my shoulder. The Jets treated me so well. I had the best four years there. We had a great run with two AFC Championship Game (appearances). I have got nothing to complain about. I love those guys, I wish them the best but it’s time for me to move on.”
It didn’t take long for Hunter to feel welcome in the much more relaxed St. Louis atmosphere.
“The chemistry here is great,” Hunter said. “It’s a different feel. St. Louis is not New York. Thank God it’s not. It’s a good feel, good chemistry. Maybe not as many big names as we had there but the chemistry feels a little bit more there. So I am happy to be part of it.”
NUMBER SHUFFLE: After the team’s flurry of roster moves over the weekend – starting with the cutdown to 53 last Friday – the Rams had to make some corresponding moves in terms of jersey numbers as many more became available.
Here’s a quick rundown of how that number shuffle played out.
Defensive tackle Kellen Heard will wear No. 96, tackle Ty Nsekhe is No. 60, guard Shelley Smith is No. 66 and running back Terrance Ganaway is No. 42.
Linebacker Rocky McIntosh switched to No. 50 after sharing 59 with offensive lineman Robert Turner during the preseason. Safety Rodney McLeod switched from 38 to 23.
PRACTICE SQUAD SET: The Rams finalized their practice squad Wednesday morning, adding receiver Brandyn Harvey as the eighth and final member.
The eight practice squad players are center Tim Barnes, defensive end Mason Brodine, linebacker Aaron Brown, tight end Cory Harkey, receiver Brandyn Harvey, receiver Nick Johnson, running back Chase Reynolds and guard Brandon Washington.
Seven of the eight players spent time in the Rams training camp this year with Brodine and Harvey added during the preseason. Harvey came in about midway through the preseason with Brodine just coming out board near the end.
Reynolds and Barnes spent time on the practice squad with the team in 2011. Brown is the only member of the practice squad drafted by the Rams. The team used a seventh-round selection on him in this year’s draft.
Washington was a sixth-round pick of the Eagles in April and spent the offseason with Philadelphia before joining the Rams this week. All eight players participated in practice with the team Wednesday.