Practice Observations: July 31st

First of all, it was clear from the number of cars parked in the field alongside One Rams Way as I drove up that fans were excited about the opening of Rams practices. I entered as a fan — I don’t know what the Rams’ policy is regarding media credentials and bloggers, but I didn’t want to lose time finding out today. There were at least a couple hundred in attendance, families mixed in with semi-professional fans (complete with cameras bigger than Steven Jackson’s thigh). We were welcomed warmly, with lots of friendly faces in Rams polos pointing the way.

As I got to the sidelines and sat on a grassy hill overlooking the field nearest me, recievers were running hook routes with coaches lofting balls over their outside shoulders, and running backs were taking handoffs from a second group of coaches. The first thing that stood out to me, once I got settled, is that MIKE KARNEY IS A BEAST.

I need to work on my camera skills — I had trouble adjusting to the bright sunlight, and many of my shots were overexposed. So this shot fails to truly show the similarities between the boiled-red Karney and Hellboy. In fact, that might be my new nickname for him. Karney runs angry, even in practice, and is always looking to hit someone or something. Watching him and SJ run together looked truly fearsome.

After fifteen minutes or so, the whistle blew and the entire offense assembled to run quick plays, using white-shirted offensive players lined up in a faux defensive front-seven alignment. Blocking and pursuit was light, and no one was tackling, so it seemed to be a focus on QBs and receivers being on the same page. I paid most attention to Bulger and Boller, though Null and Berlin were also getting work. Bulger can still stick it in the numbers, for certain, and he sounded crisp and businesslike calling out plays. His throws were prototypical “frozen ropes,” but with enough touch that receivers had no trouble hanging on. In fact, dropped balls or missed connections were very rare all day. Boller looked strong as well, but a little slower off the snap.

I was trying to watch the linemen, mostly — Barron seemed either slow or stolid, depending on your point of view. From the snap, he would take two or three plodding steps and hold his ground. The newly-signed Jason Smith, on the other hand, is incredibly quick. He was very quick in sealing off his man, moving side to side, keeping his feet in motion but never seeming out of balance. Daniel Fells also caught my eye with a couple of nice catches, one of which drew oohs from the crowd. He showed a lot of promise last season, and I think is poised to really play a role with this team.

Again the whistle blew, and the entire white-shirted unit jogged at a pretty fast pace off the field closest to us and to the one adjoining, while a couple of dudes wheeled a set of goalposts into place. I went and migrated with a herd of fellow fans, following the players.

I ended up watching a blue-shirted defensive line drill, with defensive tackles and ends rotating in and out on every other snap, lined up against the lowest tier of Rams offensive linemen. On each snap, one player was a designated rusher, so it was really easy to focus in on individuals and their techniques. A few things that stood out here:

  • Hollis Thomas is a beast, but not overwhelmingly large compared to his fellow linemen — until he turns sideways. He’s got a lot of gut weight, and he really is NOT fast. However, he’s a vicious attacker with his arms, and has to be a nightmare to line up against. He should occupy plenty of attention and deal out punishment in spades.
  • Chris Long was one of the few players I saw get noticeably frustrated, ripping his helmet off after getting swallowed up on a rush. It seemed to be a “teachable moment,” as one of the Rams coaches tried to demonstrate a rip move.
  • James Hall (I believe … I was swiveling pretty quickly from game action to my roster sheet) had a couple of strong inside rushes, but was pushed aside enough to allow the “Quarterback” (a gray-shirted Rams coach) to slide-step enough to make a throw.
  • I didn’t see much out of Darell Scott, but will pay more attention to him in following practices.

The whistle blew again, with several shouts of “Seven on Seven!” The players all perked up for this, and hustled over for a nice set of scrimmages, offense vs defense. Again, the defense had their backs to where I was, so I ended up watching that part of the ball more. Players were rotating in and out crisply every three or four snaps, giving units a chance to work together in multiple formations.

Laurinaitis was working solely with the second team, with Witherspoon anchoring the MLB spot on the first team. Little Animal definitely has speed on Spoon, though the elder man never seemed to be out of position. This was not a tackling drill (though apparently Laurinaitis didn’t get that memo yesterday), but defensive players swarmed toward the ball carrier to lay friendly arm whips on him. Also, there didn’t appear to be much of a pass rush, though whether this was coded into the drill to protect the red-shirted QBs or a statement on the offensive line, I’m not sure.

Among second-team receivers, I had an eye on Sean Walker, thanks to Ramboy81’s request. He caught one ball on a pattern than curled inside, but it was the way he caught it that struck me. Rather than keeping his feet planted and ready to make a “football move,” he left his feet and kind of glided into the ball. In game action, if he starts gliding toward the inside of the field, he’s going to get decapitated by some bloodthirsty safety.  In general, he looked sure-handed, though not noticeably speedy.

The whistle blew again, and I got to watch Josh Brown murder a couple of footballs through the uprights, creating a swarm of kids on the grassy hill waiting to catch-and-release the falling pigskin. It turned out to be some of the last action of the day, as players moved to the back field for a couple more drills removed from prying eyes, and then concluded with stretching and a gigantic huddle nearly 100 players and coaches deep.

Bonus link: For even more observations (and some pretty nice photos) from today’s practice, check out RamsGab.