RamsFanFest

Rams Fan Fest 2013: the wraps come off Tavon Austin and the offense

"Hey Will. Ten and six!" 

Train's voice rumbled down from two rows above me, sitting behind the goal posts as the offense and defense played 11-on-11 in a red zone drill. Brian Quick split out wide left, with Jared Cook in the slot next to him. Chris Civens and Tavon Austin lined up to the right. Daryl Richardson sat in the backfield behind Sam Bradford. 

"If we stay healthy, I think we go ten and six." 

The ball was snapped, and James Laurinaitis somehow came barreling up the middle, untouched. A clear "sack" on the quarterback. But this is a practice field in early August, and Bradford is wearing a red "no-touch" jersey. The play continues with a dump-off to Richardson and a gain of three yards. 

"I don't know, Train. This offense has to come together first."

At the next snap, Richardson motions out of the backfield and splits out wide right, taking Laurinaitis in coverage with him. A receiver on the left side of the formation claps his hands above his head. The ball is snapped, and suddenly there's Brian Quick in the front corner of the end zone, a defensive back flailing by, grabbing bits of jersey as he tries to put on the brakes. A side judge throws his flag to signal pass interference, but it's moot. Bradford zips the ball chin-high, Quick snares it and taps his feet down for a touchdown. 

Welcome to the Rams Fan Fest, where the hopes and dreams for the 2013 season get put under the bright lights of the Edward Jones Dome. And this year, no prediction seems unreasonable. 

A few minutes later, the air horn blew and offensive and defensive linemen set up in our end to engage in pass rushing drills, while the skill players marched down the field. Coach Tim Shields, sitting next to me, perked up. "This is what I like to see." The Rams' starting five lined up: Jake Long, Shelley Smith (temporarily), Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, and Rodger Saffold. One by one, a starting defensive lineman would line up against one of those five and test them out for a pair of snaps. Chris Long was first, taking on the newly repositioned Saffold. 

On the other end of the field, Sam Bradford was working with his receivers on a 7-on-7 red zone drill. Every minute or so, that side of the stadium would erupt in cheers, and D'Marco Farr would grab the PA mic to announce the name of the latest player to score. Austin Pettis. Jared Cook. Tavon Austin. "Get used to hearing that, folks," Farr would say. 

The drills continue down the line, relatively evenly matched, until we get to Michael Brockers vs Smith. 

After two snaps of this devastation, Boudreau subbed in Chris Williams for Shelley Smith. It was the only substitution in this drill. The results were significantly different.

This seemed to answer one of the two biggest questions among this group. Next up, Robert Quinn crouched in a cat-like stance, preparing to face off against the other: Jake Long. The Rams' biggest bet on the offensive line may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of free agency. With only two teams in the bidding, Kevin Demoff and Les Snead somehow persuaded Long to sign here for well below market value for a premium left tackle. (Jake Long's deal is also 40% less than the contract given to the man who was drafted immediately after him: Chris Long, the new face of the Rams.)

Quinn exploded out of his set as Scott Wells snapped the ball, and tries a speed rush outside of Jake Long. With an economy of movement, Long backpedaled and got his hands up under Quinn's pads. Quinn continued to churn his legs, but Long now controlled the rush. The pocket, such as it was, would stay clean for at least three seconds. For now, this deal looks golden.

After another blast of the air horn, the Fan Fest spotlight shone on two new weapons on offense: first round pick Tavon Austin and free agent gamble Jared Cook. The first team offense took to the field in a two-minute drill scenario. The ball was snapped at the far 20 yard line with 1:40 on the clock. Almost immediately, Austin's speed and start-stop ability takes over. 

The catch and run moved the chains near midfield. A pass to Cook up the seam two plays later would put the Rams in scoring position. The pass from Bradford was on a rope about eight feet off the ground, but the 6'5" tight end with 36" arms easily snared it over the safety's head. 

The offense steadily worked their way inside the ten yard line. A throwaway through the back of the end zone left 13 seconds on the clock. Once again it was Jared Cook time. Bradford found his big tight end at the front of the end zone for a last-second score. One referee signaled touchdown, and another threw a flag for illegal celebration as Cook punted the ball up into the stands.

Think these Rams are fired up for 2013? The fans in attendance certainly were. Welcome to the new year. Could be that anything's possible.

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