Rams Gearing Up for Next Step

Posted Apr 29, 2013

After months and months of grinding tape, attending college all star games and pro days, setting up visits and tirelessly going through meetings, the 2013 NFL Draft came to something of an abrupt end for the Rams on Saturday afternoon.

Having executed another trade to land the running back they wanted in Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy with a fifth-round pick that cost them their two sixth-round choice to acquire, general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher were suddenly out of picks.

With more than two full rounds remaining before they could begin signing undrafted free agents – though make no mistake, calls to potential additions began much earlier – Snead wanted a moment to process all that had happened in the previous three days before the final news conference of the weekend.

“As I was walking down here I was going, ‘Hey’ I need to decompress a little bit,’ because this week really started a month ago when we came in here for the intense meetings,” Snead said. “Then you do a lot of private workouts and then you spend the early part of this week trying to figure out (No.) 16 or (No.) 22 and the second-round pick – that takes energy. Next thing you know we just traded the rest of the picks to end it.”

Whether he not Snead had the moment to fully take stock of the weekend, he was certainly quite pleased with the results the team’s seven selections would yield. 

“From start to finish, very pleased, I think each player fits a role, each player was coveted,” Snead said. “They’re going to come in and add, I’d say, playmakers, and depth in a lot of different ways to this team, both on the defensive and offensive side of the ball.”

Indeed, the Rams combined bold trades to acquire some sizzle with solid stand-pat decisions that allowed them to check off nearly every need they had going into the draft but doing it with a little panache that they believe upgrades the overall quality of the roster.

Want play makers on either side of the ball? West Virginia receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey combined for numbers that would make even the most ardent Madden player blush. Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, taken with the second of the team’s two first round picks was one of the team’s most highly-sought defensive players in the draft and brings dynamic athleticism and play making to that side of the ball as well.

Beyond that, the Rams found solid football players with the type of outstanding intangibles that made them captains for their college teams in Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Southern California safety T.J. McDonald, Miami cornerback Brandon McGee and the aforementioned Stacy.

“I feel great, going back to the beginning of the process,” Fisher said. “Les and his staff did a great job, just getting started and then we got the coaches involved. From top to bottom, it couldn’t have gone better for us. We certainly took advantage of what we started last year with, with the Washington trade. Obviously, we’re looking forward to continuing that next year. We feel like, not only through free agency, but also through the last three days that we’ve improved this football team with players that have played positions that create problems and help us to get better.”

In some ways, Snead, Fisher and Co. flexed their drafting muscles by showing that they will do whatever it takes to find the best players possible from anywhere. In 2012, there was a decidedly small school feel to the Rams’ draft class after the selection of LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round.

The Rams added players from places such as North Alabama, Appalachian State, Montana, Missouri Western and Abilene Christian before that draft was over. Each of those players offered varying degrees of contributions to the 2012 Rams.

This year, the pedigree of the Rams draft class had a much different look. The seven-player haul had three letters written all over it: B.C.S. In other words, every player drafted this year came from one of the top six B.C.S. conferences eligible for automatic bids to one of the major bowl games in the Bowl Championship Series.

As an example of that big game experience, Jones played in and won three national championships, Austin and Bailey played in and won a Big East Conference championship and an Orange Bowl and Ogletree played in two SEC championship games.

“It certainly helps,” Fisher said. “It helps with the evaluation process. When we’re evaluating them, we go evaluate their performance within those games. If a guy is playing in the SEC championship game or playing against a big (rival), then we’ll go watch that game and see how they respond in it.”

Over the course of the next week, the Rams will continue to add to the roster by adding a plethora of undrafted free agents. Those players are not to be taken lightly given the success the Rams had in identifying and developing undrafted free agents such as safeties Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod, punter Johnny Hekker, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, defensive back Quinton Pointer, tight end Cory Harkey and linebacker Sammy Brown a year ago.

“Just like every year, I’ve told this story a couple times this week – Coach Fisher calls a fake punt out of our end zone from a college free agent punter to a college free agent gunner and we get a big play – those guys are college free agents and there’s going to be a guy out there that’s going to surprise you,” Snead said. “They usually have the makeup, the intangibles, or something to come in.”

Adding the rookies to a free-agent class that included a pair of big time names in tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook, not to mention the key re-signing of defensive lineman William Hayes, Snead and Fisher expect the Rams to take another step forward with a continually improving and evolving roster in place.

On opening day of the 2012 season, there were 24 players from the 2011 Rams roster that not only were no longer on the team but were out of the league all together. In year one, the Rams did their best to upgrade the roster at the top and begin filling depth but in year two that depth only figures to increase as young players improve and contribute more.

“We illustrated some improvement last year based on our play,” Fisher said.
“I think we’ve gotten significantly better through free agency with both the three players we were able to acquire, one we’ve retained. I believe with this group that in time this group is going to be special. Obviously Tavon, his ability speaks for itself but Alec is a really good football player. Now he’s real young, he’s got a lot of growth potential, in the game and physically. At some point soon he’s going to be an outstanding player. And I think that’s the case with everybody we got.”

The Rams will welcome their rookie class to St. Louis on May 9 and then begin an intensive rookie minicamp that will allow the youngsters to try to begin catching up before being thrown into the mix with their veteran teammates.

From there, the rookies will remain in St. Louis with the entire team for the duration of the Organized Team Activities. None of this year’s drafted rookie is on the quarter system and all should be able to be in St. Louis for the majority of this year’s offseason program.

That can only help this new batch of players integrate with the veterans right away.
“Well, I have a much better feel for players that are on the roster because you really don’t get a true feel until you see them compete, the previous players,” Fisher said. “I feel good about them and feel like room for improvement in every area. We feel much better. We’re better today than we were yesterday and that’s been the case this offseason.”