BY BILL COATS Friday, November 12, 2010 12:20 am


If there is such a thing as a "rookie wall" in the NFL, the Rams' first-year players are at about the point in the season where they should be slamming into it.

After spring practices, minicamps, training camp, four preseason games and eight regular-season contests, their bodies are aching and their minds are fried.

And guess what? They still have half a season to go.

"NFL seasons are long," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "It's seven days a week, non-stop football."

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui pointed out that the rookies' journey actually began almost a year ago.

"You go right from your college football season to training for the Combine and all-star games and all that," he said. "It's definitely been a strain on us mentally, going through all those phases, as much as physically."

The bye week helped clear the cobwebs and heal the wounds, Bradford said. "Last week was probably something I needed," he said. "It was really nice for me to just get away and stop thinking about football for a couple of days."

College seasons generally consist of about a dozen games. Plus, there are off-the-field duties that take the players away from football.

Not in the NFL. Meetings start early in the morning. "I've got to get up because I'm a rookie," cornerback Jerome Murphy said. "That's different."

A typical day also includes practice, conditioning, perhaps treatment for an injury, film study and more meetings. "It's all football all the time," Hoomanawanui said. "You've got to love it to be a part of it."

The process rarely pauses, tackle Rodger Saffold noted.

"One thing I've learned is that you don't just get better in the offseason; you get better during the season," he said. "A lot of people think, 'I'm not doing too well this year. Next year I'll be able to have time to work on this, work on that.'

"Actually, you have to continue to get better during the season. That means doing the little things on and off the field, as well as doing the extra. I do an extra 10 or 15 minutes of just getting the hands right, feet right, things like that."

Rookie performance is particularly important for the Rams this season. Nearly one-fourth (12 of 53) of the personnel on their active roster are first-year players eight draft choices and four undrafted rookies. Several have had a key role in the team's surge to the top of the NFC West standings.

"We've got a lot out of them," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "That's a credit to the personnel crew, (general manager) Billy (Devaney) and his staff, finding those guys and getting them here, and the coaching staff getting them ready to play."

Keeping them ready to play is the challenge as the season grinds on. The secret, according to second-year linebacker James Laurinaitis, is adhering to your normal habits.

"The way I kind of figured it out was, I kept doing the same things, as far as massages, cold tub, certain treatments, stretching," he said. Still, adaptation is required.

"I didn't hit a wall, but it kind of became apparent this was something different my body hadn't been through when we got to Thanksgiving," Laurinaitis said. "You're used to just kind of relaxing and eating food and everything. And then you realize, 'No, wait, no. I actually have five more weeks of football to do.'"

Saffold explained that even the rookies' relatives have to adjust to the extended season. "My mom doesn't like it," he said. "She's like, 'I'm not going to get to see you on Thanksgiving or Christmas.' And I said, 'Well, if you come to the games, you might.'"

Hoomanawanui is determined to "just forge ahead. I can't worry about having eight games left or hitting that rookie wall. I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing and finish out the season."

Still, Murphy said it's hard to forget that in college "right about now we'd have a month off to rest and play a bowl game."

"You're playing two college seasons here," safety Darian Stewart added.

The second one begins Sunday in San Francisco, which is just fine with Saffold. "I love football, so bring on the next eight weeks," he said. "It's going to be a good time."