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Practice Report 9/9: Naming Captains and a Center

Posted Sep 9, 2015

After Wednesday's practice, head coach Jeff Fisher announced the Rams' five captains and winner of the starting center competition.

After a padded practice on a hot and sunny day in Earth City, head coach Jeff Fisher delivered two key pieces of news. The first was that the Rams will have five captains this season: Nick Foles, James Laurinaitis, Robert Quinn, Johnny Hekker, and Daren Bates.

As is customary with Fisher, the players decided the captains through a vote. Because some of the tallies were so close, the head coach determined his best recourse would be to designate five players with the honor.

“I had two really tight races on defense and special teams, so rather than have a recount or go out and have a runoff, we named two on each side,” Fisher said.

Foles has spent plenty of time cultivating relationships with his teammates in the locker room and on the field, and that’s apparent in the way the Rams have responded to him. Fisher noted having a quarterback as a captain is not a lock solely based on his position.

“It doesn’t always happen that way, but the first day he stepped in the building, that’s his personality,” Fisher said. “So he captured everybody’s attention, which is good. When he talks they listen. They turn to him. So I was really happy for him.”

“It’s a great honor to be the captain of the team. Being voted on by the guys is very humbling,” Foles said. “Since I’ve gotten here, they’ve welcomed me with open arms and helped me along, so it’s really an honor to be here and play with these guys. So I’m excited about what we have here.”

Known as one of St. Louis’ special teams aces, Bates has been named a captain for the first time. He said Wednesday receiving the designation was actually a personal goal of his in the offseason.

“It feels good to be able to do it and at least for one year I can say I was a captain of the team,” Bates said. “You get the ‘C’ on your chest, and the kids on TV can see that we’ve got the ‘C’ on our chests. It’s something that I paid attention to when I was young and now I get to do it. It’s a blessing and a dream come true.”

For Hekker and Laurinaitis, it’s not their first time as captains, and both men recognized there are more leaders on the team than just those who have the 'C.'

“I think it means a lot to get that respect from your teammates and to be voted to that position is an incredible honor to be able to have that responsibility, and to lead these guys, and set the tone, and set an example,” Hekker said. “We have a lot of guys in here who aren’t captains, but are leaders and do things the right way. We are all going to work together and do what we can to push this team and make sure we are all going in the right direction together.”

“It’s a huge honor. It’s something that I take pride in,” Laurinaitis said. “There are a lot more leaders in our locker room than just the guys having C’s on their chest. I think Alec Ogletree is a leader. I think Chris Long is a leader. T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, William Hayes -- we have a lot of guys. It’s a honor, for sure.”

NAMING THE CENTER

The second noteworthy element to come from Fisher was his announcement that Tim Barnes won the competition for starting center.

“Whenever he’s gotten a chance to play, he’s done a good job,” Fisher said. “He had a good offseason. He’s very comfortable with Nick -- the two of them are working really well together.”

As one would expect, Barnes was excited about hearing the news just before practice on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a huge step, obviously, in my career,” Barnes said. “Coming through as an undrafted guy … and working my way up, it’s huge for me and my family. Obviously, we are looking forward to it.”

Earning the role is the culmination of a long process for Barnes. The center originally signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Mizzou in 2011, but then landed on the Rams’ practice squad in September of that year. He has been a contributor on St. Louis’ special teams unit since 2012, and started four games at center in place of an injured Scott Wells in 2013.

“Hard work definitely pays off after a while,” right guard Rodger Saffold said. “He was one of those guys who was on the cusp, and then he was one of our guys, then he was close to starting, now he’s starting.”

“He’s taken so many strides over the past four years and it’s been awesome,” Saffold added.

Fisher said Barnes’ work in the weight room has been apparent.

“He’s gotten stronger,” Fisher said. “He’s worked on lower-body strength and quickness.”

“I’m in the weight room and getting stronger, and a lot of it is technique stuff when you’re in practice,” Barnes said. “You’re working on the practice squad over the years trying to work on this more or that, or working on your hands and trying to get your feet going -- just trying to do that over the course of time and then obviously this offseason and camp.”

Working with Barnes on every play, Foles said he’s taken notice of how well the center has played since he’s arrived.

“Timmy’s awesome. He’s a guy who comes to work every day with a smile on his face,” Foles said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player. He does a great job with recognizing defenses, getting us into the right things, and really runs the O-line very well.”

One factor that may have given Barnes an early edge was the four games he started to end the 2013 campaign. And playing those contests could help him heading into this season’s opener against the Seahawks as well.

“I think any time you have experience it’s obviously a big deal,” Barnes said. “Looking back I’ve played these guys before, and I’ve made some starts and know how to prepare for a start.”

At this point, the Rams’ offensive line of -- from left to right -- Greg Robinson, Jamon Brown, Barnes, Saffold, and Rob Havenstein has been solidified. And while Barnes said that knowledge should help the offense, the preseason shifts could pay dividends down the road.

“I think it will be helpful, but it’s not that big of a difference,” Barnes said. “That’s one of the things we are used to, is guys changing around. So if something happened and someone got hurt, we are all used to shuffling around.”

With what should be a tough contest against a strong NFC West opponent to commence the season, Barnes said he’s been studying plenty of tape from 2014 in order to help prepare.

“We’re expecting a lot of the same things we saw last year, but you never know what’s going to happen until you get in the game,” Barnes said.

What Barnes and the team do know, however, is who will be snapping the ball this Sunday.

“I’m excited, I’m happy,” Barnes said. “I’m looking forward to getting into the season and grinding with this group of guys because I’m really excited with who we have.”