ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 12: Head coach Jeff Fischer of the St. Louis Rams watches his players during rookie mini camp at the ContinuityX Training Center on May 12, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Head coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with what he saw after the second day of the St. Louis Rams' OTAs on Wednesday. With four months to go until the start of the regular season, this week's team activities are a long way from the real thing, as Fisher made clear. We should caution readers that inspired practice field play does not always translate when the shooting starts.
Spring work is all about getting the playbooks installed and teaching the players how the new coaching staff wants them to practice.
"Yesterday was an exciting day for us because it was the first time that the rookies got to meet the vets, and the vets got to meet the rookies and so we had a little main introduction in the main auditorium and from then on it went very smooth," Fisher said. "Really pleased with what we got done yesterday. We added a bunch of things today. We got a lot of base in, we got third down, we got in the redzone today. Friday we'll probably do some two-minute. So we're throwing a lot at them, but they have responded very well and they're practicing well together."
Among the players who earned some notice on the field was second-year wide receiver Greg Salas. A 4th-round pick in last year's draft, Salas is only four months removed from a broken fibula. According to the team's web site, he looked like a new man on the field this week. He caught the ball well in red zone drills and beat Bradley Fletcher with some precision route running.
Josh Gordy was working across from Cortland Finnegan as the team's second starting cornerback. He had some pass breakups and challenged receivers. Janoris Jenkins is likely to be in that spot by the time the season starts.
That the team had Gordy in as a starting corner with Fletcher available is probably a good sign that Fisher's coaches view Fletcher as depth. If he's playing behind Josh Gordy, he's definitely down the depth chart. Fletcher was practicing, but he may still not be in game shape after a tearing his ACL for the second time last season.
With no pads on, offensive and defensive line is tough to judge. Brian Mattison, an offseason addition after being released by the Ravens, worked as the team's starting left guard on Wednesday. Fisher spoke highly of Mattison's work, but also said not to write off rookie 5th-round draft pick Rokevious Watkins, aka "Rock."
"Yeah, like I said, there's ability there," Fisher said of Mattison. "We've got flexibility. And I wouldn't rule out ‘Rock' (Rokevious Watkins) either because Rock's showed in just a couple days that he's heavy-handed, he's smart and he can move people and that's what we're looking for."
Projected starting left tackle Rodger Saffold participated in some of the work, but has not received complete medical clearance. He is close, according to Fisher.
"Barry just gives us an opportunity to line up a big man at the right tackle spot and gives us some depth there," Fisher said. "Mario's played very well in that system. We worked him out last week and he brings a veteran presence to our defense. He's a strong outside linebacker and in addition to that, he's a very talented special teamer. A great guy for the locker room and gives us some experience at that position."
Six rookies were not on hand for Wednesday's sesssion. Brian Quick, Chris Givens and Isaiah Pead were in, or on their way to, California for the NFLPA's rookie event. TE Cory Harkey, P Johnny Hekker and RB Nick Schweiger were out because the NFL continues to maintain its arcane rule prohibiting rookies whose schools have yet to hold final exams from participating.
As for the intensity levels of the pad-less practices, Fisher noted a difference of intent between these sessions and full-contact work the team will start in training camp.
"Well, it's the enthusiasm and it's the communication and the discussion and the movement skills that we're looking at," Fisher said. "When you say intensity, there's a fine line between practicing with and without pads. What we wanted to accomplish over the next couple days is relearn how to practice at a great tempo without pads and protect each because we're going to have a handful of non-padded practices as we continue to move through the offseason and in the beginning of training camp and through camp. They understand that and they protect each other and that's important."