Rams Rookies Get to Work

Posted May 10, 2013

Stedman Bailey remembers vividly what the first day of school was like at West Virginia, a day where the first day of practice meant a reasonable installation of something like three or four plays.

But for Bailey and the 55 other rookies assembled at Rams Park for the Rams’ rookie minicamp this weekend, Friday afternoon presented a new challenge meant to push them in ways that only the apex of their profession could.

Long gone are the days of slowly integrating into a new playbook. In are the days where a game that was once a part of a student-athlete timeshare is now an occupation.

“I’m paying attention to detail, studying my playbook as much as I can, learning the plays and just trying to execute,” Bailey said. “It wasn’t too bad. I sat down and studied it for awhile. I’ve kind of got a good grasp on it. But it is a lot for day one installation. I remember in college a day one installation we would put in like three or four plays compared to now where it’s 12 to 15. It’s a big difference.”

That difference is only a part of what the Rams and coach Jeff Fisher hope to glean from an abbreviated weekend that will give them their first up close and personal look at this year’s crop of rookies.

Included in that rookie class is a group of seven draft picks, each of whom is a bit more of a known commodity than the rest of their rookie brethren. The group also includes 22 undrafted rookies, players the Rams pursued after the draft and thought enough of to offer a roster spot.

And, a bit different this year, is a large class of players under the tryout classification, a group 27 deep that comes to town looking only for the opportunity to prove himself worthy of grabbing one of the team’s remaining roster spots and an invite to training camp.

Friday afternoon’s practice was the first of just two on-field sessions the Rams will go through with the other taking place tomorrow morning. The bulk of the work will be done behind closed doors as the players are fed information and playbook pieces and then expected to be able to translate it on to the field.

“That will be the only time we’ll be on the field this weekend,” Fisher said. “It’s our philosophy that you can do too much too soon and set people back and we don’t want to do that.”

The goals for this weekend are actually a bit different for each of the respective groups of rookies. Perhaps none of those groups has more at stake than the tryout players, however.

Here with nothing guaranteed, those players will be put through their paces and be evaluated physically on the field, how they handle things in the classroom and how they can take what they learn and bring it back to the field.

Considering the large group of tryout players, Fisher even took steps to help identify them better by putting strange jersey number combinations on players. For example, linebacker Joseph Lebeau is wearing No. 24 and wide receiver Gabe Loper is wearing No. 27.

“This is unique,” Fisher said. “This is really the first time we have been through the experience where we have had this number of tryouts. So it’s kind of familiarizing yourself with who’s who. We had differentiated them with slight difference in jerseys so we are just looking at guys that can move around with bounce and athletic ability and pick things up. It looks like we’ll have some tough decisions. There will be some guys from this tryout group that will at least make the training camp roster.”

Fisher also acknowledged that the tryout players may actually receive a bit more of his attention than the rest of the group this weekend.

“You can watch Alec Ogletree in the first one on one where he picks the ball off and say ‘OK, we’re OK there,’” Fisher said. “But I guess probably I am looking more at the tryout guys at this point knowing that these guys are going to be with us the next six weeks.”

For the rest of the group, this weekend is more about getting acclimated to how Fisher wants them to practice, how he wants them to conduct themselves and how he wants them to go about learning.

Upon arrival, Fisher offered words of encouragement that included congratulations for past accomplishments and suggested that they focus on learning and having fun playing the game they’ve loved for so long.

For the drafted rookies like Bailey, Ogletree, receiver Tavon Austin and the rest, this is a chance to dive headfirst into the playbook and start working to catch up to the veterans they will soon be joining in the offseason conditioning program.

“You’re definitely anxious,” Austin said. “You want to see all the top guys here. The vets come in next week, but you have to first get your mark today. I think we did a pretty good job today, so we’ll keep on going from here.”

One drafted rookie who isn’t here yet is fifth-round running back Zac Stacy, who is scheduled to graduate from Vanderbilt this weekend.

“As a matter of fact he’s graduating,” Fisher said. “I was really excited for him. We talked right after the draft about this weekend and it was our feeling that that was more important than what we are doing here. We’ll get him caught up. He’ll be coming in some time tomorrow.”

Offensive lineman Barrett Jones (foot) and running back Benny Cunningham (knee) will not participate this weekend either as they continue to rehabilitate their respective injuries. Both will participate in everything else, however.

For the 22 undrafted free agents, they are in a bit more of a secure position than the tryout players but they are also in a more closely evaluate state, the only difference being they presumably have a bit longer than the tryout options to make their case to win a roster spot.

Given that the Rams had six undrafted free agents make the opening day roster out of camp last year, the opportunity figures to be there again this year on a roster that again figures to be amongst the youngest in the league.

“They’re doing the same thing,” Fisher said. “We have watched undrafted college free agents make this roster and contribute. They understand that. Some of the guys, some of the priority college free agents we got right away, obviously we think they can help us and there’s always going to be a surprise or two.”

Of course, this weekend doesn’t provide just the players a chance to get back on the field and do what they love after months of training to run 40s and bench press 225 pounds. It’s also a chance for the coaches to get back to the thing they love most, which is spending time with their players and getting back into teaching mode.

“The staff was excited to get back in the room,” Fisher said. “We have been on the field the last two weeks with the varsity and that’s gone well. The offseason program is going well. It’s always fun once you get the rookie class in.”