The St. Louis Rams have a secret weapon this season. No, it's not a 6'10 tackle or a double secret mystery appendix in the playbook focused mostly on Johnny Hekker trick plays. It's continuity. The Rams are going to get better, the thinking goes, because the players finally have some stability from year to year.
"I guess I could describe it to you this way," Jeff Fisher said on Thursday, "last year at this time, the entire team was hearing things for the time. This year at this time, the rookie class is hearing things for the first time. Everything else is a second go around for everybody, which is good."
It's easy to forget that it was only a year ago the Rams overhauled the team's leadership cadre. Taking it from the first reports of their hiring, Fisher and GM Les Snead haven't even been in St. Louis for a year and a half.
A handful of high profile free agent moves, two drafts, impecable hair and a reputation for ballsy moves on the field and in the war room, Fisher and Snead have remade the Rams in their own image.
This year, the roster more fully exudes the approach of their coach and GM. That identity translates to the playbook too, so the thinking goes. To listen to the players speak about their second spring after the rebranding at Rams Park, it's doing wonders already.
"Amazing," is how Sam Bradford, the most obvious beneficiary described it. "Like I said, it just feels so much better knowing the details of this offense."
I am legally required to remind you here that this is the first time in his NFL career that Bradford, entering his fourth season, has played under the same offensive coordinator, in this case Brian Schottenheimer. Bradford made progress in his third season. He set career bests in passing yards and touchdowns and threw the fewest number of interceptions, 13, in his career. Perhaps most notable of all, his yards per attempt number jumped to 6.7 yards.
"Now obviously we had the opportunity to go back and watch all our cutups from last year," Bradford said. "All the concepts that we had success with, all the concepts that we struggled with. We talked about the areas that we need to be improved, the things that we need to do ..."
Bradford's been working on it for most of the spring, except for a brief interlude to proselytize the Red River Rivalry to South Americans.
"On the non-OTA days, he's been working since the rookies got here with them when it's permissible for him to work," Fisher said about Bradford. "He's taking advantage of the opportunities, not only with Tavon and Stedman, but in addition to that he's worked a lot with Jared Cook this far."
Bradford talked about his leadership role as well.
"There's a void right now," Bradford told reporters and disc jockeys on hand. "I think it's part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void."
There are some important new faces in the fold now, currently being indoctrinated to the Rams culture and the playbook. Bradford, now well versed in the system, is also taking on the role of tutor. Tavon Austin told TST last week that the Rams quarterback had already been watching film on him. He knew because Bradford told him that when he first arrived at Rams Park, the day after the 2013 NFL Draft.
Bradford was asked about Austin on Thursday.
"He's fast," the now veteran quarterback said. "He's quick. He's smart. He gets open. He's done a great job so far. We've thrown a lot at him. The first two installs, these two OTAs, it's amazing how much quicker you can go the second year in the system. Everyone's not seeing something for the first time and these rookies are being asked to keep up with the veterans."
Continuity was obviously the talking point of the day at practice. If the offense is as dialed in as the message, it could be very effective. But there will be some differences. For starters, the offensive line should be better than the one than previous iterations that left the quarterback vulnerable. The biggest change is that dynamism, and it's not just Austin's speed.
"There's a lot more speed on the field," Bradford said. "I think if you look at our offense in the past, we've really had to grind out touchdown drives because we haven't been able to create those explosive plays. You take some of the guys that we have on the field now and they can turn a five-yard hitch route into an 80-yard touchdown.
"I think that's extremely exciting."
Everyone's a little football starved, fans and players. The first whiff of spring OTAs brings out the optimist in everyone. Routes are sharp. Nobody's being tackled. The pads are still locked away in the equipment room. It's football distilled down to its essence.
It makes it easy to forget that things start changing in August when the pads come on and in September when games start to count.
But this is a good place to be. The Rams know what they want, and, more importantly, they know what they have to do to get there.
"You never go into a year thinking, ‘Man, if we could go 8-8, that would be awesome,' because if you do, you might as well not even play the game," Bradford said. "When we started this offseason - what is it, six weeks ago now? - we came in with the mindset that we are putting in the work each day to build the pieces to win the Super Bowl. That's what our goal is."