The Rams wrapped up what was one of the most stable offseasons they’ve enjoyed in years on Friday as they completed their 10th and final Organized Team Activity.
That stability offered a chance for almost completely unencumbered growth, a chance for the same coaches to work with the same players and for rookies to learn from veterans who could share knowledge of the system and what’s expected of them.
Through the strength and conditioning program that began on April 15 to the on field skill work that followed and the now completed OTAs, Rams coach Jeff Fisher came away pleased with what his team has done over the past couple of months in preparation for training camp.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Fisher said. “I like the commitment. We’ve said that from day one. They’ve put in a lot of hard work into an offseason program. The attendance was near perfect. We have a few guys that we’re monitoring and watching, just trying to get through on a daily basis. This team is going to come back healthy and ready to go. They’ve made a great commitment.”
The near perfect attendance was, perhaps, the best sign of a team that has completely bought in to what Fisher and his coaching staff have been trying to instill since arriving in 2012.
Because of that commitment as well as the stability in the coaching staff and accompanying schemes, Fisher felt comfortable enough to finish the offseason program with the final OTA rather than push further and cap the program with a mandatory minicamp like many of the other teams around the league traditionally do.
The opportunity to have that comfort level also allowed the Rams to spend most of their time in OTAs working on installation of both schemes, a process that came much easier in the second year than it did at this time last season.
“The difference is that guys are familiar with it,” Fisher said. “It was introduced to them for the first time last year. A lot of it becomes repetitive.
“As you can see we’re doing a lot of situational stuff. We’ve come a long way through the program and through the OTAs to the point where we just about have everything. We have one more day and then everything will be installed. Then, as we’ve said, we’ll start all over again with the installation at training camp.”
The official start of training camp will come on July 24, when the team has its mandatory reporting date for all veterans. The first full practice day will come on July 25.
Of course, that leaves about a six week window for the veterans and about five weeks for the rookies to go off on their own. That time period can be dangerous for teams as they rely on their players to make the right decisions, stay in shape and come back to St. Louis prepared for the rigors of training camp.
Unlike the offseason program, training camp offers no quarter for those who fall behind. More often than not, those that come in behind have trouble catching up.
“They know that they’ll be tested when they return, so there’s an incentive to stay in shape,” Fisher said. “They’re going to get their workout package. They’re going to get the list of reminders. You know all those things associated with summer. It’s the four wheelers and the wave runners, all those things because strange things happen out there and, most of the time, they’re accidental and then to make sure that you’re taking of your body and making good decisions.”
The veterans completed their offseason work with Friday’s final OTA and the rookies will stick around for another week to do some additional conditioning as well as participate in the now annual “rookie week.”
Rookie week provides the players a chance to continue working on their conditioning but also participate in off field activities designed to help them get to know places and people in their new city.
Among the events planned for next week: a football camp, a charity bowling event and some stops for lunch at some St. Louis’ most well-known eateries. The rookies, including the seven draft picks who signed their contract Thursday, will also receive some additional financial and other everyday life guidance.
That group will then head to the annual Rookie Symposium for more tutoring on how to transition to the pros both on and off the field.
In the short period of time the rookies have been around, Fisher has been pleased with how the rookies have adjusted, a process that he believes is key to the offseason program.
“First and foremost, you want to bring the rookies up to speed and we’ve done that,” Fisher said. “I think each one of them to a man has done a real good job learning the system and getting caught up physically, so that’s encouraging. The challenge for them is now is to maintain that before they come back.”
As the curtain drops on another offseason program and the Rams turn their full attention toward training camp, Fisher will get away from the grind and go off the grid for a bit just like the rest of the players and coaching staff.
Having had the chance to go through a full offseason with continuity in hand, Fisher believes could yield greater return in 2013.
“It’s just a lot different being in year two in the systems,” Fisher said. “There’s a much greater understanding at this point and you’re able to go back and look at things as you install them. You’ve got cutups from the year before. So, obviously, our offense is way ahead of where we were.”