Rams respond to adversity… with their fists

Coach Spagnuolo invited Dick Vermeil to speak to the Rams early in camp. It was a generous gesture, and signaled a willingness to embrace the giants of the past, without fear of being compared unfavorably to them. But Vermeil came not just to gladhand, but to lift up these players. OJ Atogwe came out of the session repeating a key messages that the Rams carried away:

Adversity is a great teacher if you use it to your benefit. In any man’s life he’s going to be met with adversity and you can either triumph over it or you can fall to it.”

Then last week, in the days leading up to the team’s first preseason action against the fearsome Vikings defense, Spagnuolo repeated this message. (And I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t find the link to the audio.)

“I want us to face some adversity. How we respond to it brings us together as a team.”

Well, just in the last few days, that adversity has included seeing their $50 million dollar quarterback get ragdolled behing a discombobulated offensive line; losing two more members of their depleted secondary; and seeing Rodger Saffold leave the very next practice with a back injury.

You wanted a test? This is a test. The pall of bad news on Monday afternoon very nearly tested my stomach’s ability to hold down my lunch.

Morning Session: Fists of Fury

But if Tuesday’s two-fer practice session was any indication, these Rams are mad as hell at all of these pianos that fate keeps dropping on them. They came out with an “intense” morning practice session in full pads — with Saffold shrugging off Monday’s bruises and getting right back in the mix. Hitting turned into scuffling, which turned into a full-on fracas. The tale of the tape: Gary Gibson def. Hank Fraley by TKO (helmet knocked off). Jason Smith & Chris Long fought to a draw. Jackson def. Gibson by TKO (ripping his helmet off). And at least one old-schooler loved it.

“This is the most spirited practice I’ve seen all summer,” said longtime NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt, in St. Louis on his Sirius XM radio training camp tour.

And Gary Gibson, the instigator, isn’t being frowned upon.

“He was feisty today,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s been his gig. He’s earned himself some extra playing time here because of the work ethic. He’s a blue-collar guy. I thought he had a good aggressive practice.”

— Jim Thomas, STL Today: “Fists Fly at Rams Camp.”

Pass Rush Drill

Afternoon Session: High-Flying Stunts

It wasn’t all “Fight, fight, fight and fight some more” at Rams practice. They held a second session in the evening, which I was able to attend. And there we saw the Rams’ intensity manifested as sharpened skill and focus, especially by the receivers. (Emphasis mine.)

Third-year receiver Donnie Avery elevated and laid out for an A.J. Feeley pass along the right sideline — perhaps the best catch I’ve seen at a training camp this summer. Avery had a rough day from a physical standpoint, taking a hard shot to the back when a defender landed on him awkwardly, but he bounced back and caught a sideline pass right away. Avery put on weight this offseason in an effort to become more durable. Looks like he passed an initial test Tuesday;

— Mike Sando, ESPN. “Rams catching on, at least on this day

Other notables out there:

  • Mardy Gilyard returned to practice with a light cast on his left wrist. Even though it was a non-tackling practice, he was out there blocking and scrumming when needed (all 110 pounds of him). I saw him give a quick shake to his injured paw after one such play, then go right back out and catch a dart from Bradford and turn it upfield on the very next play. He’s been hungry to get out there, but I think being forced to sit and watch over the weekend might actually have increased his focus and intensity.
  • Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher also returned to play cornerback, which was a good sign.
  • Backup CB Marquis Johnson was getting a lot of coaching up on special teams duties, matchup up against the gunner on punt returns.
  • Brooks Foster made a gorgeous diving catch from Keith Null on the sideline (with Bartell in coverage), right in front of the side judge — and right in front of where a bunch of fans were standing. He got a bunch of “oohs” and cheers from the afternoon spectators.
  • This was part of a two-minute drill, where Null led the second-team offense down the field against the ones on defense, and put them in position for a makeable field goal try from the 25. The two squads switched places, and the defense came back to our side of the field. You could see Long, Atogwe and Laurinaitis smiling, shaking their heads, knowing that they shouldn’t let those younger players have anything. The competition level is high among these guys.
  • In between scrimmages, Spagnuolo and the line coaches took the first and second-string O- and D-lines for a series of one-on-one drills. A coach would stand in shotgun and call the snapcount, even trying a hard count to get the defensive players to jump offsides — and he did catch them, once. (The D-line got their revenge by getting a younger tackle to flinch on another down.) When the ball was snapped, only one rusher would actually engage a lineman, and try to fight off the block to get to the quarterback.

    The fiercest battles were between Jason Smith (still at right tackle) and Chris Long — even in shorts and shells, they were going at full intensity. No doubt the morning’s scuffle was still on their mind. Long got inside Smith on one down with a submarine move, but Smith recovered to push him underneath the pocket … but the play would likely have forced the QB to scramble out and dump it off. On a second down, Smith aggressively engaged and pushed Long out wide, using his speed against him.

    encouraging. Long lighting a fire under Smith, maybe?

    I think that’s exactly what the coaches are trying to do here. Perhaps that is reason enough to keep Smith practicing on the right side, so he has to face the team’s toughest pass rusher day in and day out in practice. In a bit of a surprise, Larry Grant was put in among the second-team pass-rushers, and he successfully juked Ryan McKee with the same kind of stutter-step inside move that #92 Robison of the Vikings was using on Saffold Saturday night.

Earlier in the day, Van Ram from TurfShowTimes and Neil at ProFootballFocus and I were talking Larry Grant and David Vobora via Twitter… Vobora has been a favorite underdog of the PFF crew, while Grant’s limited playing time reflected only a modest score. At the time, I noted that the only place on the field Grant hasn’t been so far this preseason is in the QB’s kitchen. Perhaps that’s about to change.

So despite the headlines of “brawls” and “fights” from yesterday’s practice, this is actually good news for the still-hopeful fans of the Rams out there. The youngest and losingest team in the NFL is mad as hell, and their play shows it.

Says Chris Long: “You’re in a bad mood. You should be. We were 1-15 last year. We’re (upset).”

Amen, brother.