Aubrey Pleasant and his cornerbacks think of themselves as bus drivers. Because their position group has the smallest margin for error in professional football, they reason, they should set the pace and direction of practice.
And at their speed, you wouldn't want them driving a bus through your neighborhood.
A second-year member of the Rams staff, there's no missing Pleasant on the fields at Cal Lutheran. He's a perpetual motion machine, and only his words-per-minute outpace his pedometer.
After trading for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, resigning Nickell Robey-Coleman, and layering in the upside of Sam Shields, the Rams "bus drivers" represent one of the strongest units in the NFL. During a recent conversation with their charismatic position coach, immediately and virtually unprompted, he made clear he isn't shying away from this opportunity to unify so much individual talent.
AP: There is no situation where it comes to a player that would be difficult for me.
JB: So there's no concern?
*AP: Why should I be? I embrace it. One thing that I'm more excited about is not only getting these guys, but getting these two guys (Talib and Peters) at a very interesting point in their careers. I think we all will take pleasure on not only establishing expectations on the field, but superseding expectations when it comes to character… I think most things that make a lot of DB coaches get nervous or squirm, are things that excite me. That's just who I am in nature. *
But now, to whom much is given, much is expected. So everybody is looking saying, "Hey, we had success with the guys we had last year. Now we have this." So if they score one touchdown, or they catch a hitch, then I'm fired. And I understand that and I'm OK with that.
That's the kind of answer that makes me check my calendar to see how many days are left until Week One.
Between now and September 10 in Oakland, there are a few logistical matters to settle. When I watched film on newly-acquired Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, it struck me that both ball hawks traditionally played on the same side of the field. How that will shake out in Los Angeles hasn't totally been resolved, apparently.
AP: They both played defensive left. I was kind of joking with the room, "Which side do we play?"* *
I said, that will take care of itself. We do some matchup things. We do some left and some right. I will flip them both.
*Honestly, one of the things I really try to adapt to as a coach is making my players feel very uncomfortable during practice. No matter if it's me being in their head, making sure that they're constantly tapped in… because I really believe if you feel uncomfortable in practice, it'll make you feel very comfortable in a game. *
Regardless of how they align, Peters and Talib project as the starters, with Nickell Robey-Coleman playing the slot. But how will Pleasant and the Rams account for the uncertainty of Sam Shields while leveraging his upside? A 2014 Pro Bowler, Shields sat out all of last season recovering from multiple concussions.
*AP: Sam has an unbelievable skill set that really matches for what we want to do, and you better believe I'll have the best on the field. We make a joke and say, "Everybody's gonna eat." The best thing for them is just to make sure that they stay process driven, and not results. *
In the modern NFL, with a 16-game schedule and the proliferation of sub-packages, you cannot have too many talented defensive backs. Including Shields, the Rams did well this off-season to accumulate an embarrassment of riches at that position. So much so that one of the highest-graded corners in the league from December and January is inevitably overlooked.
*AP: Let's not take any credit away from Troy Hill who finished the season, the last three games of the year, my starter. And who legitimately helped us… get that playoff spot. *
That's a well-timed reminder from Pleasant, who I believe is perfectly poised to ascend through the coaching ranks… so long as his corners don't allow so much as a hitch to be completed against them this season, right?
Check out photos from Day 6 of the Los Angeles Rams OTAs.