On Monday, the St. Louis Rams held their first full-padded practice of the year, and it was open to the public. It's still very early in training camp for any battles to be won, but the lines have been drawn. Some players aren't holding back. Who is excelling already? Who still has a lot of work left to do?
The main focus here is obviously on Bradford. Sam looked very good Monday. He was under a lot of pressure, but even if the defense got to him they let him make his throw, so it's hard to say if that's really indicative of real NFL pressure. He seemed very accurate and was connecting well on the few deep passes he unloaded.
Austin Davis also looked good with the second unit. A few balls seemed to be a little off the mark, but that would be hard to notice when throwing to Stedman Bailey who catches everything. Kellen Clemens seemed to have a rough day. He didn't get a lot of reps, but when he did he seemed inaccurate and out of the flow of things. Clemens even fumbled a snap late in team drills.
What may have been a question mark coming into camp has turned out to be a possible team strength. This crop of running backs offers a lot of versatility and talent. None stood out more on Monday than Isaiah Pead. Pead flashed elite speed, and seemed to be moving a step quicker than everyone else on the field. He was running with the first team offense most of the day, and looked like he belonged there. He was sharp in and out of cuts, and always seemed to be in the right hole or running the right route. So far, Pead looks like he may elevate himself in year 2.
Richardson didn't really stand out Monday, but did get some time with the first team as well. Zac Stacy looks sharp running between the tackles. He stays very low to the ground and drives his feet well. He is able to navigate in traffic and pick up tough internal yardage. The Rams could really use him to compliment someone like Richardson or Pead. Let's hope he is ready soon.
However, one of the big standouts of the practice was Ben Cunningham who looks like a very powerful back with the ball in his hands. Terrance Gannaway will have a very tough time making this team with someone as talented as Cunningham in front of him. Cunningham also showcased some of the best pass-blocking during individual drills. I see him making the team at this point .
Will the Rams keep 4 running backs?
I'll keep this as short as possible, as this is a big group. This wide receiver corp is the best the Rams have had in a very long time. Chris Givens looks like a #1 receiver, and certainly got that kind of work load on Monday. Givens probably got twice as many balls thrown his way than any of the other receivers. He looks to have a full understanding of the offense, and is playing very fast. Givens also looks to have added 10-15 lbs.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are as advertised. Austin looks blazing fast, and seems to be picking up the offense well. He is already running with the first team, and had a number of balls thrown his way. He even caught a beautiful pass over the top for a TD where he beat the defense by a mile. It's obvious some of the offense is already designed around him.
Bailey catches everything. When you hear people talk about how he contorts his body around to make impressive catches you can know that all those sentiments are true. Bailey could play a big role on this team late this year if he continues to learn the offense. He can be a receiver you count on to make plays in clutch situations.
Pettis and Quick both made some good catches in practice, but neither stood out. Quick actually dropped one very catch-able ball, and looked to be a little slow once team drills started. He still looks like he is thinking a lot. All of my fears about Quick were slightly amplified after yesterdays practice.
Mark this down. Andrew Helmick will make the St. Louis Rams football team. He was given a lot of opportunities Monday. He even got some snaps with the second team. He catches everything and looks to be a step ahead of the defense. He runs polished routes and appears to be in and out of breaks quickly. He made several tough catches, and has a "scrappiness" score that is unheard of.
Another guy worth mentioning is Emory Blake. Although Clemens struggled to get him the ball, he made one impressive TD catch that stood out at the end of red zone drills.
Jared Cook easily is the most physically gifted of this group. You can tell just by watching him run.
The two TE's that stood out most to me during team drills were Cory Harkey and Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Harkey ran well, and made several nice catches. Harkey would be tough to bring down in the open field too, as he looks to be weighing close to 270 pounds right now. Lutzenkirchen also made one really nice catch in the red zone that caught everyone off guard. I saw a crowd of people scramble to look at their roster to see who he was after that catch. It will be interesting to see how much playing time those two get during the preseason.
This group is very hard to evaluate from this practice, as it was difficult to make out some of the action. But one thing is for sure, the offensive line got beat up by the defensive line on Monday. Jake Long appeared to do well for the most part (laying out Robert Quinn on one play), but the interior line was crushed by Brockers and company. Even Roger Saffold seemed to be a little overwhelmed against Chris Long who consistently won their match-up. Bradford was under constant pressure. He would have had much less than 3-4 seconds to throw in many cases. Let's hope this group can pick it up quickly.
In contrast to the review of the offensive line, the defensive line looked great. Micheal Brockers looks lean and powerful. He made driving the Rams interior line backwards look effortless. He will be a special player this year. Is it too soon to talk about the Pro Bowl? (Yes, yes it is).
Chris Long looks bigger as well, and he gave Roger Saffold all he could handle. He seems to always have the right answer on every play. Quinn looked good as well, but was noticeably outclassed by Jake Long on a few plays.
The only other defensive line player that caught my eye was Matt Conrath who appears to have added 20-30 pounds this offseason, and looked good creating penetration. He could be a surprise rotational player this year.
We all know what to expect from James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lon Dunbar, and they gave me no reason to think any differently Monday. Both were flying around and looked sharp. Ogletree was already working with the first team exclusively, and seemed to be working well. He never stood out to me during drills, but he did rag doll a player out of bounds once during 11-on-11.
Ray Ray Armstrong caught my eye several times during practice. He is a very good athlete, and blew me away with his size. He was a safety when he joined the team, and then was quickly converted to linebacker. You would expect him to be a smaller linebacker. He is not! He looked large and fluid. He was able to make several big plays against the second team, and even tipped a hard to reach ball that may have gone for a touchdown otherwise. He will likely make the final roster unless there is something I am missing. He probably should have been drafted.
Jenkins, Finnegan, and Johnson all appear to be a very solid starting unit. Jenkins can be a top tier corner in this league if he can keep himself focused. He makes football look effortless, but he will have to stay focused and hungry to prevent teams from taking advantage of him and out-smarting him when he cheats.
T.J. McDonald is going to be a thumper. He delivered some hard blows during 11-on-11. A combination of McDonald and Stewart should have opposing offenses cringing. Both Stewart and McDonald are known for big hits, but it's their coverage skills that should have many concerned. The safeties seemed slightly out of position most of the day, and defensive coordinator Tim Walton was chatting them up more than any other unit. This will be an interesting bunch to follow throughout the preseason.
That's all for now. What player are you most excited about now?