ST. LOUIS - When you haven't had a winning season since 2003, haven't fielded a playoff team since 2004 and have won just 15 of your last 80 games, there are a lot of fences to mend. Rams team leaders know this, and they are optimistic that better days are ahead.
Saturday's Fan Fest at the Edward Jones Dome was an attempt by the organization to re-connect with the fan base. There was a good turnout, and by all accounts a good time was had by all.
“Obviously, we're trying to change - I guess - our reputation, our image in the city,” quarterback Sam Bradford said following Saturday's workout at the dome before 12,753. “Obviously with Coach Fisher, we've got a new look, a new attitude. It's something that we want to share with the fans and the city. Hopefully, they feed off of Coach Fisher just like we do in the building (Rams Park).”
So far, Fisher has done as much work on the team psyche as he has on the playbook, the depth chart and the practice regimen. It's as if the recent past never happened, and he steadfastly refuses to put limitations on or lower expectations for his first Rams team.
“I think we're taking a step in the right direction,” running back Steven Jackson said. “I believe Coach Fisher, what he's brought to the team, brought to the community, I think you can see it. The excitement in our fans. We had a huge turnout (Saturday). And I think for what the fans saw, they saw a new type of team that's very aggressive, very confident in what we're doing, and looking for a change.”
Obviously, the only change that matters for the Rams is a change in the won-loss column. With the exception of the bye week at the start of November, the Rams play a football game every week from now to Dec. 30 in Seattle. The preseason opener is Sunday in Indianapolis.
“I think both sides of the ball are pretty much on pace,” Fisher said. “We've got a lot of work yet to do, and we've got to fine-tune some things. We've got some tired legs after the first week. I think we'll have a better idea after we play the first preseason game.”
The first practice days of this week will be camp as usual, but later in the week some preparation work will take place for Indy.
“We're going to have to prepare specifically our offense for their defense,” Fisher said. “It's an odd-front defense. So we'll make sure our guys are ready to go. We'll probably start that late Thursday or Friday.”
The limited overall practice time in camp, as well as limitations on the number of practices in pads, make the evaluation process tougher for the coaching staff. What happens in preseason play is more important than ever in deciding who makes the 53-man roster and who wins several starting berths still up for grabs.
On offense, Quinn Ojinnaka currently has the edge at left guard. But Bryan Mattison remains in the mix, and rookie Rokevious Watkins - now that he's practicing after reporting to camp out of shape - could eventually work his way into the picture as well. At fullback, Ovie Mughelli is still learning the offense but is expected to challenge Brit Miller.
One week of camp hasn't brought much clarity to the wide receiver position. While it's foolhardy to make sweeping generalizations one week into camp, nonetheless it's debatable at this point whether the Rams have done enough to upgrade the position.
So where is the offense at this point - one week in?
“It's kind of hard to tell,” Jackson said. “We're still actually putting in plays. Still working the chemistry between the offensive line and myself and the other guys in the starting lineup. And you still have guys competing for starting jobs. So it's hard to tell where we are. But the progress we've made has been tremendous. A lot of it has carryover from the spring.”
On defense, Craig Dahl and Darian Stewart are going at it once again for a starting safety job. Dahl has the slight edge now, in part because Stewart has missed the last three practices with a tight hamstring. Before all is said and done, Rocky McIntosh could challenge Mario Haggan at outside linebacker. But this unit - at this point - appears more game-ready than the offense.
Obviously, injuries could change the landscape. Surprises could still emerge - one already has to a degree in undrafted rookie defensive tackle Matt Conrath.
“We see some potential there,” Fisher said. “He has a chance to be a pretty good football player.”
But Fisher cautioned: “The process is evaluating them in the games; that's where you get a better sense.”
And the games are less than a week away.
)2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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