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  • Spagnuolo sees progress in team's comfort level ..

    Having same systems on offense and defense benefits learning process

    By Howard Balzer
    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    Fans want big splashes in free agency and big names added to the roster in the offseason, but Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is counting on something else that will lead to improvement for the 2010 season.

    When a roster is as young as the Rams, significant progress from those younger players is mandatory. And, a large part of that comes from the comfort level of players being in the same system for the second consecutive year.

    Consider that for all the players drafted in 2008, most notably defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Donnie Avery, any advancement they experienced during their rookie season was immediately negated by having to learn a new system last year when Spagnuolo was hired.

    “It’s a whole different feeling,” Avery said of this offseason, compared to the last two. “Knowing the nuances of the offense, how to get open. You’re just more comfortable, and can just play without thinking all the time.”

    Defensively, Spagnuolo can already see the difference after just four OTA sessions.

    “There’s a huge comfort level there,” Spagnuolo said. “I felt that, and I actually jotted something down on my notes here that we’re certainly ahead of where we were last year defensively with the communication and getting things set and people feeling comfortable. Defenses are reactionary, so when you eliminate the learning curve of thinking instead of reacting, you usually play better defense. They play faster, so I think we’re getting there.”

    Workaholic middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is settling into his second season, and now can focus on refining rather than learning all he had to call the defensive signals as a rookie. Laurinaitis is not someone that enjoys down time.

    When asked about Laurinaitis wanting to get back to work almost as soon as the season ended, Spagnuolo said, “He must have texted me 10 times in that period when they were off saying, ‘Is there something I can do? Send me film. What do you need me to do?’ I mean, he’s itching to go. He’s everything you see.”

    Noting the difference from last year at this time to now, cornerback Ron Bartell said, "It's like night and day. Me and the guys were talking about how we feel so much different from last year's OTAs to this year's OTAs. We're just playing a lot faster--a lot more crisp. Hopefully, it translates into the games when the real bullets start to fly. But as of right now it's like night and day."
    Torry’s advice

    Avery said there wasn’t one person that encouraged him to start eating healthier this offseason in an effort to keep weight on and get stronger. He said, “I knew I had to do it, and just decided to.”

    However, he did acknowledge hearing that message consistently from former Rams receiver Torry Holt during the 2008 season.

    Said Avery, “Torry would always talk about the importance of eating healthy, that it was a big key to a long career. I just brushed him off when he’d say, ‘Don’t eat that pizza, have a salad.’ But I can now see what he was talking about. I just feel better.”

    Spagnuolo was pleased at the offseason work Avery did. "I like the fact that he did that," Spagnuolo said. "I think it makes you more durable. You get wacked around pretty good when you catch the football, so I think that’s going to help him out."
    Who’s the tight end?

    The departure of Randy McMichael could make the tight-end position one of the most competitive during training camp. Returning are Daniel Fells, who is unable to practice in the OTAs because of a knee injury suffered last season, Billy Bajema and Eric Butler, who was on the practice squad in 2009.

    Signed as a free agent in the offseason was Darcy Johnson, formerly of the Giants, and selected in the draft were Michael Hoomanawanui (fifth round) and Fendi Onobun (sixth).

    Johnson has excellent size. Hoomanawanui, who wasn’t used extensively as a receiver at Illinois, has shown soft hands and the ability to catch in the early OTAs. Onobun, who played only one season of college football, has freakish athletic ability, but has to be consistent catching the ball.

    Tuesday, Hoomanawanui made an outstanding one-handed catch the day after Onobun had some issues with drops.

    "We saw him make those kinds of catches on Illinois film," Spagnuolo said of Hoomanawanui. "He’s got that in him. I do think he’s got a good set of hands."

    Of Onobun, Spagnuolo said of transferring his basketball ability to the football field, “You see that part of the ability. Now, we’re a long ways away from the football part of it, listening to the cadence and not going offside, but he’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker. (Tight ends coach) Frank Leonard does a great job with him. He’ll get better every day. He’s only in his, whatever, eighth practice. He’ll be good.”

    As for the drops, Spagnuolo said, “I’m always discouraged when guys drop it. He wasn’t the only one though.”
    Personnel notes

    With left guard Jacob Bell sidelined after knee surgery and John Greco out of team drills Tuesday because of a strained pectoral muscle, Mark Setterstrom got a lot of work at left guard … Rookie tackle Rodger Saffold has been working with the second unit, while Phil Trautwein is with the first team at right tackle … Adam Goldberg is currently the first-team right guard.

    Cornerback Kevin Dockery, signed in the offseason after being with the Giants, has been getting work at nickel back … Defensive end Chris Long is lining up mostly at left end.

    Wide receiver Brandon Gibson missed a few snaps Tuesday after dislocating a finger … Cornerback Quincy Butler was excused from Tuesday’s practice because of a personal matter.
    OTA Schedule

    The Rams will have their final OTA of the week Thursday, which is not open to the media. Next week, there are three scheduled OTAs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the first two open to the media.

    The following week will be a busy one with OTAs Monday and Tuesday, June 7-8, and the mandatory minicamp from Thursday through Saturday (June 10-12). The OTAs wrap up the following week with four scheduled practices June 14-17. By agreement between the league and NFL Players Association, teams can have only 14 OTAs, not including the minicamp.

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    NFL: Spagnuolo pleased with progress of defense ..
    by MauiRam
    May 25, 2010 6:37 PM
    The Telegraph

    ST. LOUIS — Steve Spagnuolo is a defensive-minded coach.

    In his first season as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, the architect of the New York Giants’ Super Bowl-winning defense watched his Rams finish 29th defensively out of 32 teams during a 1-15 season.

    With players entering their second season in Spagnuolo’s system, the coach is pleased with what he’s seen so far during organized team activities.

    "We’re certainly ahead of where we were last year with the communication and getting things set, and people feeling comfortable," Spagnuolo said after Tuesday’s practice at Rams Park. "Defense is all reactionary, so when you eliminate the learning curve of thinking instead of reacting, you usually play better defense and play faster."

    Anchoring that defense is second-year linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has been a fixture at Rams Park since the season finished in January.

    "He must have texted me 10 times during that period when they were off asking, ‘Is there something I can do? Send me film. What do you need me to do?’" Spagnuolo said of the former Ohio State linebacker. "He’s everything you see."

    The Rams added two more Ohio State linebackers in the offseason, with Na’il Diggs and Bobby Carpenter joining Laurinaitis and Larry Grant. Spagnuolo said he was impressed with the size of the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Diggs and how easily Carpenter transitioned from the 3-4 system in Dallas to Spagnuolo’s 4-3.

    "The thing that’s helped him is the fact that he’s familiar with some of the guys already," Spagnuolo said of Carpenter, whose career at Ohio State overlapped those of Laurinaitis and Grant. "They bonded right away. They’ve got that Buckeye thing going on."

    Diggs is one of only six players over the age of 30 on the Rams’ current 91-man roster. Spagnuolo said the "more experienced players" like Diggs and free agent acquisitions Hank Fraley and Fred Robbins can teach the younger players "how to be a pro."

    Spagnuolo and Robbins, a former Giants defensive tackle, have "high expectations" for the season in terms of productivity and leadership on a young team. Robbins, a 33-year-old 10-year veteran, was signed as a free agent in March.

    This is the second week of OTAs at Rams Park. The Rams practiced Monday and Tuesday and will go again on Thursday. That practice is closed to the media.

    After this week the Rams have three OTA sessions remaining and a mandatory mini-camp from June 10-12. The roster is currently at 91 players, but must be down to 80 by the start of training camp in late July.

    While the weather last week was mild, the first two practices this week have been in unusually warm 90-degree heat.
    -05-26-2010, 01:19 PM
  • Bralidore(RAMMODE)
    The 2010 Rams are here: Offseason Workouts
    by Bralidore(RAMMODE)
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    The School of Rock is back in session.

    After a two-month break from all things football, the Rams re-convened at the Russell Training Center on Monday for the start of the offseason conditioning program under the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches Rock Gullickson and Chuck Faucette.
    For head coach Steve Spagnuolo, having the players back in town signaled new beginnings.

    “It’s now the 2010 St. Louis Rams and it really begins today,” Spagnuolo said.

    Upon their arrival back in St. Louis for the start of the program, the assembled players were broken up into groups pending position and size. But before the dumb bells were touched, Spagnuolo took an opportunity to assemble his team and pass along an important message.

    “Every day has got to be a new day, no matter what,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Coach Spags talks about erasing the past so that’s what we as players kind of have to do whether it was good or bad we have to erase it and go forward. Certainly we can reflect on some of the things we learned but as far as we are concerned we are 0-0 just like every other team.”

    So it was that any memory of the 2009 season was officially wiped away by Spagnuolo and the Rams on Monday morning as they begin anew in preparation for the 2010 season.
    For the better part of the past two and a half months, Rams players went their separate ways. Some went home to be with family and friends. Some took vacations and everyone recharged their battery for the first step toward next season.

    Linebacker James Laurinaitis went on the “Buckeyes Cruise for Cancer,” an annual trip featuring prominent former Ohio State athletes, that raised more than $400,000 for the Stephanie Spielman cancer awareness fund.
    Laurinaitis also got a new dog and spent most of his time working out in Columbus with former Ohio State teammates.

    “I feel kind of useless if I’m not working out or doing something,” Laurinaitis said.

    Receiver Donnie Avery went home to his family and friends in Houston. After taking about a week to clear his mind and rest his body, he set about the task of getting himself into prime shape for what he hopes will be a breakout third season.
    Avery spent his time working out with fellow NFLers such as Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers in the Houston area with the goal of adding weight to his frame.

    In 2009, Avery played at about 184 pounds but says he gave up eating red meat, added more vitamins and chicken to his diet and gained about 14 pounds with an eye toward becoming a more durable player.
    “Coach told me he wanted me to come back healthier and stronger and heavier,” Avery said. “I think I’m getting bigger, eating healthier and working harder in the weight room and it should help get rid of some of those injuries I’ve had.”

    That’s just a small...
    -03-15-2010, 09:42 PM
  • eldfan
    St. Louis Rams making progress as team after minicamp
    by eldfan
    St. Louis Rams making progress as team after minicamp

    May 3, 2009 - Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo talks with quarterback Marc Bulger at the end of practice during the Rams' second minicamp. (Chris Lee/P-D)BY JIM THOMAS

    With the draft behind him, most of the roster shaping complete, and two minicamps under his belt, Steve Spagnuolo is feeling more and more like a football coach these days.

    "The makeup of the team starts to formulate a little bit clearer," he said. "Because unless something really dramatic happens between now and training camp — or the opening game against Seattle — this is the team."

    The Rams will continue to tinker with personnel, and the bottom fifth of the roster may churn over even after the regular season starts. But most of what constitutes the final 53 — the opening-day roster — was on the field over the weekend at the Rams' May minicamp.

    It would be easier for Spagnuolo to nurture that sense of "team" if he knew everyone's name. But with 21 draft picks and rookie free agents on the field for the first time, as well as assorted street free agents and tryout players, Spagnuolo had to peek at a copy of the roster on the practice field.
    "I'll be honest with you, every once in a while I've got to do that," Spagnuolo said. "That's why I've got (a roster) in my back pocket right here. It's been a challenge to try to get the faces and the names figured out."

    It's still all that fresh for the new coach of the new-look Rams. To date, the Rams are only halfway through their first offseason program under Spagnuolo. The lighter practices known as organized team activities, or OTAs, don't start for another two weeks. Then there's the June minicamp before the team breaks for about a month before the start of training camp.

    Even the veterans are still getting used to Spagnuolo's personality and practice-field demeanor.

    "He's definitely fiery," cornerback Ron Bartell said. "He asks a lot and he expects a lot. He sees a lot of potential that we have on this team ... that's been untapped that we haven't reached yet. So he's just trying to bring that out the best way he can."

    Attendance has been impressive, not just for the two minicamps held so far, but also for the weight training and conditioning that comprises the offseason conditioning program. Then again, if you don't want to show up and impress a new head coach, something's wrong.

    "Yeah, I guess the test will be next year, right?" Spagnuolo said, laughing. "If they're not coming back (next year) that means they didn't like what's going on."

    On defense, Spagnuolo said even some of the veterans' heads were spinning Sunday because he introduced some of the team's red zone schemes....
    -05-05-2009, 10:35 AM
  • Bralidore(RAMMODE)
    Offseason Program Pushes Rams Forward
    by Bralidore(RAMMODE)
    Wearing a black “Fahgeddaboutit” kitchen apron Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and coordinators Ken Flajole, Pat Shurmur and Tom McMahon served up a special lunch on Monday afternoon.
    That quartet formed the wait staff for “Maria’s Café,” an impromptu Italian restaurant set up in the back lobby of the Russell Training Center and run by the coach’s wife, head chef Maria Spagnuolo.
    Twelve players were able to partake in the extensive menu, which included meatballs, lasagna, friend chicken, baby back ribs and a variety of other dishes. And though the spirit of the event was done in fun, it was actually a reward for many hours of sweat given over the past couple of months in the team’s offseason conditioning program.
    “I think it’s good for the guys to see the coordinators and head coach serve them,” Steve Spagnuolo said. “That added a little twist to it and I get to see my wife on a Monday. And they can pick on the waiters so it worked out pretty good.”
    After a major makeover to their weight room and offseason conditioning program brought on by strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson was a big hit with Rams players last year, the Rams continued to look for ways to build on the bonds formed in last year’s program.
    Technically, the offseason conditioning program – which began on March 15 – is optional. But you’d never know it from the amount of participation the Rams have had during the past month and a half.
    Spagnuolo estimates that the Rams are right in the range of 90 percent participation among the players on the roster, not far off from the number they posted last year. The few that haven’t been around have been working out on their own, have been in and out because of other commitments or recovering from injury.
    “I think it’s been great,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Guys have been getting in here and working hard and this is a big part of what we do. I’m a big believer in the saying that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. I think everyone has come in and done a great job.”
    Before last year, the Rams’ weight program underwent a major overhaul under Gullickson and assistant strength coach Chuck Faucette. That included a complete revamp of the weight room itself as well as a shift in philosophy.

    In recent seasons, the Rams used a strength and conditioning program that was more geared toward specific movements with less emphasis on strength training and building muscle and bulk.
    Under the new regime, the emphasis has shifted to power lifting. That means more Olympic style lifts such as hang cleans, squats, dead lifts and a variety of heavy presses.
    The average week for a Rams player during the offseason consists of four workout days, each with a specific area to work on.
    Mondays start with a complete upper body...
    -05-11-2010, 05:46 PM
  • MauiRam
    Rams set for start of OTAs
    by MauiRam
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    The silly season is over. As of Tuesday morning, the focus of the National Football League has shifted from the rumors, speculation and innuendo that go with free agency, the draft and the trade market back to the meat and potatoes.

    “The football part of it, being on the field, smelling the grass and having the fields lined and the ball being tossed around and guys being confident in what they are doing,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on Monday. “And we have guys that were hurt last year that get to resurface so we get to watch them now. It really is the first time together so we get to start molding this all together.”

    For the Rams, it all starts at 10:40 Tuesday morning when the majority of the team will step on the fields at the Russell Training Center for the first Organized Team Activities (OTAs) of the offseason.

    It will be the first of 19 such practices scheduled to take place in the next few weeks, culminating with a final workout on June 17 and a full squad minicamp the previous weekend. For those unfamiliar with the OTA concept, think spring football for college teams or spring training for baseball players.

    Unlike those endeavors, though, OTAs aren’t about practicing at full speed with all of the available equipment.

    In other words, the Rams will not be wearing pads (per league rule) and there will be no full contact periods during the practices.

    Instead, the OTAs provide the players with an opportunity to meet and get to know some of their new teammates as well as begin getting acquainted or re-acquainted with the system and the playbook.

    In the case of the Rams, Spagnuolo expects a departure from what the OTAs were like last year.

    “The very first year it was so much about kind of getting guys to understand how we wanted to practice, the tempo and how fast and the organization of it,” Spagnuolo said. “Because when a whole new staff comes in, the players don’t know what is expected and you feed it to them so you spend a lot of time on the actual organization and operation of practice.”

    In year two of the Spagnuolo era, the tempo has already been set. The bulk of the players on the roster were either in St. Louis last year or have played in a system similar to what is already in place here.

    “Now that we have gotten through that and we have veterans here that know how we operate and do things, I am looking forward to these OTAs being all about getting the football right,” Spagnuolo said. “And by that, I mean if we run a play that isn’t right, we will go back and repeat it. Last year we had to worry more about keeping the tempo of the practice and making sure everybody got a certain number of reps. The practices won’t be as long but we have to make sure we do it right. That will be one of the things we stress.”

    It can also mean...
    -05-17-2010, 11:49 PM