Everyone can read typical coach-speak this time of year. You would be hard pressed to find a coach in the NFL during OTAs that isn't preaching about competition, improvement, managing reps for key players, and learning curves. However, there is some insight to be gleaned from offseason interviews if your magnifying glass is powerful enough. Here are some quick hits from a recent post-OTA interview session with the Rams' Coordinators. A transcript of the interviews can be found here.
- The Rams have arguably the best Kicker/Punter combo in the NFL with Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein. Hekker set records last year and is fine-tuning his game this off-season. Zuerlein is working on being more consistent and is getting stronger as well. (Wait.... Legatron getting STRONGER?!?) That's great news for the Rams and should scare the rest of the NFL.
- When addressing longer PATs (38 yards instead of 20) this preseason, Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel said "I'd imagine our percentage wouldn't change from the 38-yard compared to 20-yarder. (traditional PAT)" That shows the supreme confidence that he has in Zuerlein's kicking abilities.
- Fassel went on record as saying that they Tavon Austin is being relieved of his full-time kick return duties. It sounds like he will still take the bulk of the return duties, but Isaiah Pead, Chris Givens, Justin Veltung, Greg Reid, and Tre Mason are in the mix here as well. This is going to be fun to watch... don't expect many touchbacks in the preseason.
- Speaking of Isaiah Pead...He seems to solidified his spot on the roster by being a "high-impact guy" on special teams. It's doubtful he ever lives up to his draft status at this point with the logjam in the backfield, but Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been impressed with his burst and views him as a "terrific match-up problem for defenses." It looks like Pead may be a contributor on 3rd downs as well this year. More important than anything else, he seems to have finally found his way out of Coach Fisher's dog house. Fassel praised his maturity and work ethic during the interview.
- Michael Sam is having to shed weight for special team play to make the roster, but that puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to the DL rotation. It's going to be interesting to see what weight he plays at.
- An open competition was unexpected at RB, but both Fisher and Schotty have a history of preferring time-shares over a 'workhorse' back. There is so much conflicting information out there regarding the Rams RB situation. Expect Stacy to get the of carries early in the season, with everyone else fighting for change of pace duties.
- With Greg Robinson on one side and Roger Saffold on the other, the Rams have infused a lot of athleticism at guard. While Robinson is more of a mauler than a blocker at this point, he still has supreme athleticism, as does Saffold. Expect the Rams to use that to their advantage and to get them into open space more to clear way for our stable of RBs.
- Kenny Britt has burned the DBs on multiple occasions and will be a big play threat, but is still learning the system. Schotty has been "very, very pleased with what he's done so far", but his role in the offense is still vague.
- St. Louis' most controversial player not named Bradford is (once again) impressing in OTAs. Schotty called Brian Quick him "the most improved player" he's seen in camp. MOST. IMPROVED. PLAYER. My man-crush on Quick is slowly fading, but I still count myself among the few believers left. This has to be the year he either steps up and fulfills his potential or fades into the distance.
- The most note-worthy tidbit came from Schotty when referring to Sam Bradford's recovery from ACL surgery. "All of this stuff (referring to participation in OTAs) for him really has been bonus. We weren't sure how much of this stuff he'd get." There it is. Proof that Sam is ahead of schedule in his recovery. No one is certain about his level of involvement in the preseason, but it's looking likely that he will be under center week one against the Vikings.
- Another interesting snippet from Schotty was in regards to Sam's leadership role on the team. Bradford "has the system down" and has taken it upon himself to take on more responsibility with teaching the younger guys the offense. Sam has slowly shed the 'young QB' role and is starting to look more like the veteran QB you want leading your team. Now if he can just stay healthy.......
- Tavon Austin "has the system down cold" per Schotty, and plays faster because of his knowledge. Now THAT is interesting. Tavon FASTER? I'm drooling at the thought....running by Bowman, Willis and co... stopping on a dime and running around Peterson and the Honey Badger...Sorry. I got lost in my thoughts there. Schotty said a lot of the same things regarding moving Austin around, but will it actually happen this year? If they can find mismatches for this kid, he is going to be a bawse!
- Aaron Donald has blown Schotty away in OTAs. The DL is downright giving the OL fits during OTAs, much like they did last offseason. That says more about the strength of the DL as opposed to weakness along the OL. Hard to gauge just how good the OL can be without pads on, but Schotty seems satisfied.
- The Offensive Playbook is pretty much the same as last year, but another year in the system means players are more comfortable. Schotty "tried to simplify some things for the guys" and the offense is responding by focusing on "attacking the defense faster." Schotty Attacking? Are we finally going to see some aggressive play-calling?
- Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams is in his element with the Rams. He's close to home working with for his best friend with a supremely talented defense at his disposal.
- Williams stated multiple times that he's still learning the personnel and how he can use them together. He acknowledged that the acclimation process has been intense for all parties, and that progress will continue to be made. This defense is going to get better over time, and it has a very high ceiling under a motivated Williams.
- The defensive staff has challenged the players at every turn during OTAs, attempting to make practice more stressful than games will be. Williams is thankful to have Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the roster to help bridge the gap. Dunbar has helped players relate to Williams and has made it easier for players to 'buy-in' to William's system.
- Williams provided some insight into how he plans to manage all of the talent on the defensive side of the ball throughout the interview. The most intriguing part to me was when he said "We're going to package to situations, package to personnel the other team is bringing on the field, and then package to our strengths." To me, that says that we are going to be situationally be rotating a lot of players in and out of the game. That is going to keep the defense fresh throughout the game while also exploiting any weakness available. Preacher he is not, but Williams is a very intelligent coach. Seeing what he can do when he combines his knowledge with the level of talent on the defense is going to be fun.
Roles will become more defined in training camp, but for now the coaching staff is maximizing competition so everyone improves. This team is chock full of youngsters looking to prove themselves in the league. The competition is fierce, particularly on special teams for those precious last few roster spots. This team is going to be exciting again, but will they be able to reign in their emotions in high-leverage situations?