Rams Practice Notes: August 3

Jason Smith watches practice from the sidelines Jason Smith watches practice from the sidelines.

Note: I attended the evening practice. For a nice wrapup of the morning practice, check out this post by @RamsOnDemand. Meanwhile, Nate Latsch of Gridiron Gateway on Scout.com offered this report on Rams players’ reactions to Dick Vermeil’s visit. Oh, and BRETT FAVRE.

Temperatures were in the low 40’s as I drove up to the Russell Training Center Tuesday evening, and the sun was blazing onto the practice fields. (My little red car’s thermometer is stuck on Celsius — one of its many lovable quirks, along with not having working air conditioning or the ability to hold its power steering fluid for more than a few days. 40 degrees C = 104 degrees F.) After practicing in full pads that morning, the Rams switched to shorts and shells for the second half of this brutal two-a-day.

I posted another 30-40 tweets during practice, filling up timelines and interrupting an ongoing bitch session for how thoroughly dominated the Redbirds were yet again by the mighty Bud Norris, for which I apologize. (Never get between a Cardinals fan and his La Russa rage.) Here are a few highlighted observations, and my thoughts.

Rams LBs working on a drill designed to keep pad level low. start by hurdling cushions underneath a 5′ screen, then burst into hi/lo blocker. Larry Grant, Laurinaitis making the pads pop consistently.

It was perhaps a little surprising to see that Larry Grant started camp as the weakside linebacker over the newly acquired Bobby Carpenter, but now that Grant has the job don’t expect him to give it up. If Spagnuolo wants physicality at the position, Grant is definitely the choice. And before you cry about Carpenter, Barron is likely to be second string in Dallas, behind Doug Free.

Lost in the shuffle, though, is strongside LB David Vobora, who was practicing as the backup middle linebacker yesterday, and who has been supplanted by the wily veteran Na’il Diggs. Vobora has been a favorite of the guys at ProFootballFocus, who describe his play with such terms as “wild abandon,” and according to a fellow fan on the sideline, Vobora laid a massive hit on fullback Mike Karney on Monday, knocking Karney’s helmet off.

Back in May, the PFF guys expected Vobora to win this battle on the merits of his play. So far, however, it’s Diggs who has been getting the first team reps.

Damn it! on the very last play before the horn, bartell goes down clutching his lower right leg.

Bartell lay on the ground for a long minute after the air horn sounded, marking the end of that session. Immediately, thoughts of Jeremy Maclin’s badly hyperextended knee that ended the Eagles’ practice early this morning came flooding to mind. But unlike Maclin, who had to be carted off, Bartell was able to get up and limp off gingerly, with a Rams trainer holding his arm.

Today, we get good news via Billy Devaney on Bernie Miklasz’s radio show: the x-rays were negative, and Bartell suffered only a mildly sprained ankle. He should be back in practice in a few days. That’s a very good sign for a Rams secondary in desperate need of playmakers.

Bartell was flanked by Bradley Fletcher on many first team reps, with Justin King also getting a lot of playing time. First team safeties were Atogwe and James Butler, with Craig Dahl and Kevin Payne getting most 2nd team reps. Notable in defensive drills, when the Rams would switch into their “buffalo” nickel formation, swapping out a defensive back for a linebacker, everyone yells “buffalo, buffalo” and holds up their hands like horns.

RZ: Rams defense goes to ‘buffalo’ formation, with tiny #35 dockery subbing out for a lb. five rams in pattern, td bradford to burton!

After not looking very sharp in offensive drills — you could euphemistically say that “the defense was ahead of the offense today,” the Rams appeared to find another gear as they moved into red zone drills. Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton were among those making nice touchdown grabs, and the playcalling mix — including successful draw plays to Jackson and Ogbonnaya — appeared to have the defense on its heels for the first time that long hot practice.

In general, though, Bradford did not look as sharp as he had in Saturday’s practice, and I think it’s an adjustment to the speed of the game. Notably, he seems to do well on sideline patterns, where he had his receivers isolated one on one. But he struggled noticeably trying to find the windows in crossing patterns. He had a pass batted down by a linebacker probably running faster than the young QB was used to; he put one crossing pass behind Danny Amendola’s ear, suggesting perhaps the receiver’s cut was faster than he expected; and he got picked on a stop pattern in the flat as his delay in releasing the ball gave Quincy Butler ample time to read the play and step in front of the pattern.

This isn’t to raise a warning flag, as Bradford is more than capable of bouncing back. His ball speed is still phenomenal, and he throws a very catchable pass. One favorite target on the day is new tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who is just enormous, with pillow-soft hands. He’s also a monster in run-blocking. I wasn’t high on the pick on draft day, but I can see falling for this guy in a big way.

http://twitpic.com/2be9o1 jason smith watches from the sidelines.

One of the few pics on my cell phone that came out captured a lonely Jason Smith, standing on the sidelines. His lack of play so far in camp is really starting to nettle Rams fans. And even though Devaney came on the radio to reassure fans today that he (a) would be playing if this were the regular season (the same thing that was said of Bulger’s fractured pinky in last year’s camp), he didn’t exactly pencil him in at left tackle. The team has been very pleased with Rodger Saffold’s play at the point, and Smith may very well be stuck on the right side again.

There have been whispers about an attitude problem with Smith, that he has been “moping” since being sidelined with the bum toe. I’m not passing this off as truth — there’s no way for me to verify or deny something like this. And I hate to question a guy’s character or heart until he has an Alex Barron-length track record of underperformance. But speaking as a man in his late 30s who has struggled with depression, I can tell you that there’s nothing worse for a young professional athlete of his caliber.

Depression nearly ruined my college career, and as long as I ignored it, it continued to wreak havoc with my personal life. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by talented and driven people on many different fronts, and I was able to do good things — amazing myself at times — by matching their effort and their standards. But when it came to motivating myself, or holding myself to my own standard, I found that it didn’t exist. Like any personal handicap, recovery only began with recognition.

Right now, Smith isn’t able to surround himself with his talented compatriots on the offensive line. He can’t propel himself forward by using their energy, their output. He’s alone on his own personal rehab timeline. Only he can push himself forward, as Donnie Avery did in last year’s aggressive recovery from his own toe fracture. And a lot more eyes are on him than have ever been on me.