By my count, I've talked to no fewer than six different police departments around the country this summer, part of job as the NFL Editor at SB Nation. (FYI, the San Diego cops were super cool). Offseason. So, I can't even begin to tell you what a welcome sight it was watching real football being played, or practiced anyway, Thursday afternoon at Rams Park.
It was the St. Louis Rams' first full-squad practice of training camp, a momentous occasion and a sure sign that we can now, officially, get back to talking about actual football taking place on the field, even if it's just a practice field.
So let me share with you my observations, since we're back to talking about football.
The Tavon Austin Show
No question what the main attraction was among the throngs of fans squeezed in around the practice field. The Rams' offensive weapon did not disappoint. Even in position drills, all eyes were glued to No. 11. But the real fun started when the coaches put the players through 11-on-11 drills near the end of practice.
The crowd went wild at Austin's first reception from Sam Bradford. They were clearly working through the different receivers, so there was only so much Austin for hungry fans to see. It was enough. My favorite play was Bradford hitting him about 25 yards down the field. The whole sequence went like this:
Ball is snapped. Austin was instantly behind the defense (they were blitzing). And in another split second he caught an easy pass from Bradford that would have gone to the house ... if there were only a house to go to in team drills.
Austin works all over the field, but he was mostly lining up wide on Thursday.
Secret Superstar: Stedman Bailey
Sure, Austin is fun to watch. But don't sleep on Stedman Bailey. He had the best catch of the day, reaching back with a corner smothering him to grab a deep ball and the break free of his man.
When you go back and watch Bailey's work at West Virginia, you see a guy who run a nice route and knows how to twist and turn his body with smooth mechanics and surprising burst of speed. We'll see how much adjustment he needs when it's time to face to pro corners in full pads and hell bent to kill, but Bailey has the goods to be a very good NFL player.
I'd almost compare him to ... nah, forget it. Let's not let hyperbole get the best of us this soon.
Running Back Battle
Not much to report here. Daryl Richardson did most of the work with the first team in 11-on-11 drills. Isaiah Pead cycled in there some. I stood right in front of the running back drills early in the practice session, and I can say that Zac Stacy looks like a redwood tree compressed into running back form.
Seriously. The dude is stacked. He runs like it too. He fumbled the ball in one drill, thanks to some iffy gripping. But he had a good handle on it the rest of the time. It was clear why he led the SEC in rushing last year whenever they gave him the ball and sent him up the middle.
Shoving Match of the Day
Give the award to Janoris Jenkins and Chris Givens for getting a little chippy on one play. No big deal, they were just fired up. Jenkins had Givens locked down, and they exchanged some minor unpleasantness after the whistle.
The competitive fires are stoked!
Name to Know: Andrew Helmick
No. 84 on your list of players. He's a local guy, from Lindenwood, and might be the hardest working man on the field ... which is really saying something on a team coached by Jeff Fisher. When you see him play, or practice, his speed really stands out. And for a small school guy, he didn't look out of place next to and against veterans.
I doubt Helmick will breakthrough the logjam of receivers in front of him. However, he could stick around as a special teams contributor -- which is where he was doing a lot his work yesterday -- or at least on the practice squad.
- Michael Brockers looks thicker. No, seriously, I'd like to know what his muscle mass is this year versus last, because he looks especially ripped.
- Robert Quinn could be in for a big year. He manhandled Jake Long in one-on-one drills, putting the left tackle on his knees.
- Speaking of Jenkins, he looked like a much improved player. His coverage was tighter, and he seemed more focused on his man than the quarterback. If he carries that through this year, he may not have as many interceptions, but he'll be a shutdown corner.
- I expect big things from Givens this season too, and I didn't see anything on the field Thursday to dissuade me.
- Bradford, Pead and Richardson spent some extra time after drills working together, catching passes out of the backfield.