James Laurinaitis, Sam Bradford and Ron Bartell are reconvening their hugely successful player-run minicamp this week, only this time they won’t be under the noses of the locked-away coaches and staff. They’ll be deep in enemy territory, in Phoenix, Arizona.
The location change shouldn’t faze many of the players. A good number of the 35 players who showed up at the Rams’ first unofficial camp came here from out of town. Ron Bartell has been training here throughout the offseason and will play host, though no word on whether he plans on organizing a slumber party like Bradford did. The desert location is also much more convenient for Steven Jackson, who could conceivably drop down from his home in Las Vegas.
The camaraderie among the Rams’ young players is more than just a pleasant note, it’s a sign of respect that this team has for its common goal of not letting the lockout keep them down.
It’s also in sharp contrast to many other camps around the league.
Some teams in the NFL are lucky enough to have respected veteran leadership in place — Larry Fitzgerald brought the Cardinals (and surprise guest Donovan McNabb) together last month, and Matt Hasselbeck shrugged off his own free agency to run an orderly workout for the Seahawks.
For others, though, trying to jump on this trend for the sake of appearances, or simply for lack of anything better to do, things aren’t going so smoothly.
Christian Ponder tried to get something going with the Vikings, but received a collective “meh” from many of the players who simply decided not to show. Trying to avoid the whole “who’s here, who’s not” issue, the Panthers’ players managed to piss off their fans and at least one reporter by keeping a media-free police perimeter around their field. And the Niners fiddled with the idea of keeping the media out… now they’re probably wishing they had, as all attention is now on Michael Crabtree and Alex Smith’s very public (and hilariously pathetic) dislike for each other.
The leadership gap is obvious in situations like this, and these teams with ugly quarterback scenarios, brand new coaching staffs, or both, simply don’t have the means to overcome it. At least, not until the judges and lawyers are done.
The latest plans indicate that the NFL would be willing to wait as late as October to actually play a 2011 season. The longer this lockout continues, the more of a yawning gulf appears betwen the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the league.
Only in this case, we aren’t talking about finances. We’re talking about leadership. And whether it’s the high-character veterans or the young stars, the Rams have it.