Should the league and players get the knocked out, and it looks like that could be the case soon, the Rams, as well as every other team, will have to cram their offseason activities into a period spanning less than two months.
Scrapping rookie camp and cramming in free agency, this offseason will be about making the most of a shortened official team offseason and accelerating the learning curve for the newest members of the team. Given last year's schedule, what could the timeline look like? What will the impact be on the Rams?
My guesses on the timeline and three keys to making the most out of what's left of the offseason after the jump.
Last year, the Rams held rookie camp from April 30 to May 2. The purpose of a rookie camp is, generally, two-fold. First, the most obvious benefit to a rookie camp is to help acclamate the drafted rookies (who are expected to sign) to the team, to the NFL and to the styles of play on either side of the ball.
Last year, it centered around Sam Bradford and his transition from Oklahoma's scheme to Pat Shurmur's version of a reduced WCO, but it also had to include Rodger Saffold, Mardy Gilyard and a crop of tight ends into the transition. Defensively, Jerome Murphy and a trio of defensive ends needed the work. And that's without discussing the UDFAs a team could have at that point. Last year, the Rams had 13 rookie free agents at camp.
The second purpose of rookie camp is essentially a tryout. Between unsigned UDFAs, random hopefuls and a couple spot guys to fill out roster spots as rookie role players (think long snappers or fullbacks), rookie camp balloons to a larger event. Along with the 11 draft picks and 13 rookie free agents, there were 36 other attendees at the Rams' rookie camp last year. That's damn near a full team to deal with over a couple days. NFL teams are going to gave to rush to put one together this year, because full training camp is around the corner.
Normally, the team holds organized team activities (OTAs) into June with about a month break before training camp opens. Last year, the Rams opened training camp on the 29th, welcoming the full team two days later. Since the Rams are tentatively scheduled to open their preseason with the Hall of Fame game against the Chicago Bears, Aug. 7, they'll be allowed to open camp a week earlier.
As of right now, I'd put the opening of camp around the 21st of July. So here's the breakdown:
|Soon?||Lockout ends. America rejoices.|
|ASAP after an agreement is reached and the lockout is lifted||Free agency starts. Rumor mills explode.|
|About a week after free agency opens||OTAs and minicamps start. Some fat guys show up too fat.|
|July 21st?||Rams open training camp. Grown men weep with joy.|
|?||Free agency closes. Brett Favre lurks.|
|Aug. 7||The Rams open their preseason.|
There's not a ton of time to prepare as a team this year for anyone. The playing field, in that respect, is level. What isn't is how coaching staffs and front offices spend that limited time. Determining which undrafted rookies to bring in is aspect this season. When the doors to free agency open, there's going to be a lot of scrambling. Making the appropriate selections (which we'll likely only figure out in hindsight) will be arguably paramount for any team that isn't already a strong contender, and even then it's still important. The Rams certainly fall into the former category, so finding a couple UDFAs who can help the team will be a vital first step.
Next is managing time throughout the team activities. This is probably the biggest issue of all. The Rams have a new offensive coordinator running a new system with a second-year quarterback. The receiving corps has no establishment, bringing back two WRs who lost either all or most of the season (Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton) and a host of new options from the draft. With free agency, Josh McDaniels is going to have to be ruthlessly efficient with his time prior to the Bears game.
Of course, the third key is -- a constant possible game-changer -- injuries. Rushing too much too soon could actually be disadvantageous. Sure, guys have been working out, but you have to manage contact and intensity on a curve. That's why you start without pads, add the armor and get into full contact later on. With a condensed offseason, condensing the curve itself is a risk-reward decision that every head coach willh have to make.
This has been, and will continue to be, a different offseason to say the least. The staffs that can manage those three aspects (free agent selection, time management and contact curve abbreviation) will be able to make the most out of this truncated NFL calendar. Let's hope the Rams are one of those staffs.