This weekend marked the first time that the Rams rookies got on the field to work with Rams coaches. Seven draft picks, 22 undrafted free agents, and a busload of "tryout" players — promised nothing but a hotel room and a chance to earn a coach's eye — made their way to Earth City and strapped on Rams blue and gold for the first time.
Those that were drafted are pretty well known by Rams fans at this point, but only the die-est of the die-hards have started looking at the rookie free agents. However, Les Snead and Jeff Fisher already put six UDFAs on their roster in year one of their rapid rebuild, so a few of these new names are bound to make an impact.
Here are three whose names already appear worth watching in the early going.
Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech
#38. 6'3" 205 lbs.
The Rams came into the 2013 draft with three safeties on the roster, each of them who joined the team after going undrafted. Former starters Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone, and those that remain combined to take 85 defensive snaps last season. Even with 3rd round pick TJ McDonald in the fold, there could hardly be a better landing spot for an undrafted safety looking to make an impact.
Enter Texas Tech's Cody Davis. Per Jim Thomas, the Rams went after Davis aggressively after they finished drafting, giving him a signing bonus and guaranteeing part of his rookie salary to bring him in. In his own blog, Davis says that he got phone calls from Fisher, special teams coach John Fassel, and defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil trying to recruit him here.
Davis fits the "bigger-stronger-faster" profile to a tee, standing at 6'3" tall and running a sub-4.4 time in the 40 yard dash at his school's Pro Day. Fellow rookies McDonald, converted safety Alec Ogletree and Miami's Ray Ray Armstrong also stand 6'3" or taller, so clearly the Rams feel the need to add length to their defensive interior.
Ironically, the degree to which the Rams scouted wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey might have given Davis a boost. He had 13 tackles and two pass breakups in a monster game vs West Virginia. Scarcity at the position creates an opportunity — Davis' clear ability as a tackler as well as a headiness for the ball in the air will give him a long look at the position.
Stylistically, when you watch him play, Davis' fluidity and tackling fundamentals shine. He is able to wave through traffic without losing speed, and gets his shoulders low and his arms wrapped around the ballcarrier with regularity. While you don't see many "splash" plays, guys getting blown up, you also rarely see runners gain any yards after contact.
“We’re just glad that he wasn’t (drafted),” Fisher said, in a profile posted on the team's official site. “We had a good grade on him. He had an outstanding combine. He’s a sharp young guy that plays special teams and he’s got cover skills and he can run and tackle. He’ll have a good opportunity.”
Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn
#43. 6'5", 250 lbs.
Philip Lutzenkirchen may hold the all-time Auburn record for touchdown receptions for a tight end, but I'll be honest… I hadn't heard his name before fellow Rams fan and noted chocolatier Tyler tweeted this at me.
— Tyler (@chonbon15) May 8, 2013
And just so we all know that he didn't lose his flair for highlight-reel plays once he got to college, Tyler sent me this video of a sick one-handed, back-handed grab-and-smash touchdown-scoring play. So yeah, that caught my eye.
A four-year starter at Auburn, Lutzenkircher shows well-rounded ability on tape at the multiple areas at which a modern tight end is expected to excel. On any given play you might see him in the backfield as an H-back, on the line covering up a tackle, or in the slot as a receiver. And he might be blocking or making himself into a weapon (or both) on each play.
The softness of his hands and agility in his upper body show up right away. But more subtly, he shows a fine ability to mirror defenders with quick feet as a pass blocker. He doesn't have Jared Cook's god-given speed to be able to run away from defenders, so you'll see him looking to meet tacklers head-on even on 40-yard fly patterns up the seam.
Running at the combine 13 weeks after surgery to repair the labrum and clean up three bone spurs in his hip, Lutzenkirchen knows that his speed and vertical explosion are not where he wants them to be. "I know 4.91 isn't my best time," said Lutzenkirchen in an al.com feature. "The goal was to show I'm healthy in the drills and I was the only TE to not drop a pass."
In all, he looks like a more polished version of the same skillset that St. Louis product Mike McNeill brings to the table, and is going to be a clear contender for the TE3 position in camp.
Daren Bates, LB/S, Auburn
5'11" 210 lbs.
For Daren Bates, the question may not be about talent (especially not his talent for delivering punishing hits), but his position fit. Like fellow SEC product Alec Ogletree, Bates was converted from safety to linebacker during his collegiate career. Unlike Ogletree, though, Bates still considers safety to be his natural position.
"My love has always been safety," Bates said. "Being back, coming downhill, it's just my type of position." He has spent the offseason drilling with longtime safety Ray Mickens, and even has notorious Eagles enforcer Brian Dawkins as the background image on his Twitter shield. Standing a shade under six feet with 210 pounds of coiled strength on his frame, Bates could be Dawkins' mirror image.
However, the Rams' roster has him listed as a linebacker. And while uniform numbers are a little unpredictable right now — a wide receiver tryout is wearing #27 and a linebacker is wearing #24 — Bates is sporting a very linebackerian 51 on his white practice uni.
And while he may not have enjoyed playing in the trenches as much as patrolling the green fields of the defensive backfield, he found a way to contribute. Even having to go up against offensive linemen that outweighed and outsized him considerably.
"After a while, you get out there playing, you're playing football," Bates said. "If I could play linebacker, safety, d-end, I'm out there."
Starting out as most rookies do with a healthy chunk of time spent on special teams, that's the right attitude to have. Anyway he can make a big hit to make a big impression, that's where Bates will have to be.