NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
While the persistent buzz around the Rams since training camp opened has revolved around what should be an improved offense, it is different from last year when then-rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein was the talk of the town.
That buzz enveloped the entire league when Zuerlein hit his first 15 field-goal attempts, including one from 60 yards against Seattle in the fourth game of the season.
However, things cooled down noticeably after hitting that 15th consecutive field goal. He was just 50 percent for the rest of the season (8-for-16), with six of the misses coming from more than 50 yards.
That led special teams coach John Fassel to make a decision: Zuerlein would essentially rest for virtually all of the offseason. Fassel believes Zuerlein simply wore down as the season went on.
Fassel said, "He came off an injury in college after his junior year. He rehabbed it and kicked his whole senior year in college, and right when his senior year ended he's kicking at a (regional) combine in Detroit. I went and worked him out twice, six other teams went and worked him out privately. Then he had the OTAs, and then we had him here in the summer kicking.
"It just became so much that by November, December he was tired. So we gave him a lot of time off after the season to kind of freshen himself up, go back in the weight room. His strength has improved, so his ability and success later in the season should improve."
Zuerlein was in St. Louis working out, and communicating with Fassel throughout.
"I would tell him how I was feeling, and we'd go from there," Zuerlein told the Post-Dispatch. "I would tell him how good I was feeling and he'd go from there. He would say, 'OK, wait another couple weeks.'"
He waited throughout the offseason, although Zuerlein admitted he unknowingly got in some kicks during his prescribed down time.
Said Zuerlein, "Well, (Fassel) doesn't know it, but I'd sneak out here and tap a few. Nothing hard, but some light taps just to get the foot on the ball. Nothing strenuous."
The Rams are counting on it paying off. They also hope the improved offense will reduce the number of long-range field-goal attempts. Last season, 13 of his 31 attempts were from 50 yards or more.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--An estimated crowd of 15,000 fans attended the annual FanFest at the Edward Jones Dome Saturday, and they were able to see rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin run the ball from the backfield on the first play of 11-on-11 work.
"That's where my heart has always been," Austin said afterward. "Running back. That's where I played my whole life. Hopefully, there will be times they put me back there, and I get a couple of carries a game. For the most part, my home is slot receiver."
A coy coach Jeff Fisher said, "He's got a lot of ability and he can do a lot of different things. Whether we continue that stuff in the regular season, I don't know. But it's kind of fun to play around with.
"You're going to have to come out and watch and see. Obviously, there's things that everybody does across the league in camp that they don't show until the regular season."
--The team's improved speed on offense should also be accentuated when the venue switches to artificial turf. Quarterback Sam Bradford saw that when practice the day before the FanFest moved inside because of lightning.
"When we got on that artificial turf, there was a noticeable difference about how much faster we were," Bradford said.
After Saturday, Bradford said, "We do play faster. In here today, there was a lot of speed."
Said Austin, "I felt like I was home back at West Virginia. It felt good to get out there and make a couple of plays, show the fans what I can do."
--Former Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce is spending time in training camp working with the team's young pass-catchers. Several, including draft picks Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, have been spending time with Bruce on the field after practice.
Asked how Bruce can help, coach Jeff Fisher said, "It's the subtle things, the little detailed things, seeing things from their perspective."
Fisher also noted that the team's receivers coach Ray Sherman "is a really good football coach and welcomes both of those guys in as far as the young guys are concerned." Both was in reference to Torry Holt, who joined Bruce in camp Monday.
"I'm just glad to be able to learn from him," Austin said. "Pick his brain. I asked him, 'What can I do better?' And he was happy to help. It's something I'll never forget -- that he wanted to help me."
Added Bailey, "It's just a blessing to talk to someone like that. He's done so much in the NFL for so long. To have him come out and give me some words of advice, a lot of guys will never have the opportunity to learn from a great like him."
--As soon as linebacker Alec Ogletree was selected in the first round of the draft, Rams coaches began comparing him to former Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck.
The long arms. Both started out as safeties. Each were picked with the 30th choice of the first round.
Bulluck visited Rams camp for three days ending July 31 and had several discussions with Ogletree.
Ogletree said, "He was very helpful, telling me how to use my hands, showing me the ropes and talking about being a pro. It's great to hear from someone who's done it."
Most important, Bulluck finally got back his collection of football cards that had been in the safe-keeping of Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis since 2009.
Bulluck had gone to McGinnis' office and shown him the large binder late that season, and then went to practice. That week, he blew out his knee, and the cards were momentarily forgotten. That season was his last with the Titans, and his career ended after playing for the Giants in 2010.
McGinnis held onto the cards and one night this spring on SiriusXM NFL Radio, he was a guest when Bulluck was the co-host. McGinnis invited him to training camp and said, "I'll give you those cards back."
Call it mission accomplished.
--Former Rams tight end Ernie Conwell, now working with the NFL Players Association, visited training camp July 31 to meet with the team.
Conwell told the Post-Dispatch his role was to "just discuss some business with them, some issues that we had, and some updates for these guys. This is a great visit for me because coach Fisher does everything the right way all the time. So it's always nice for me to come because I get to see a lot of old friends, and it's fun to be in a great environment like this."
Conwell relocated to Nashville after his playing career was over and ended up coaching Fisher's son in high school at Christ Presbyterian Academy.
"Jeff would be at the games all the time," Conwell said. "He was up in the stands just watching like every other dad. It was nice to get to know Jeff outside of the game for a while."
--Smack Cam is what several veterans have dubbed an ongoing prank in which players are hit with whipped cream pies. Only players that say they are in the game can hit or be hit, and the "attacks" have to be on camera.
Early in camp, defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Trumaine Johnson nailed cornerback Cortland Finnegan during an interview and the flying pie hit some members of the media.
At one point last week, Long said, "I'm winning the pie war. I'm always ready."
So it was that Long got his while signing autographs after the FanFest.
Asked about his involvement, quarterback Sam Radford said, "Oh no, I'm not in that game. It's great entertainment for everyone in the locker room who's not in the game. I have a great time observing."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our goal has gotta be a top-five defense. Top 10 is the minimum expectation. We feel like the sky is the limit. I don't want to set any goals out there, bulletin-board goals. But we have our goals in the locker room. I'll just tell you they're high." - Defensive end Chris Long.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Rookie running back Zac Stacy has consistently impressed in practice and is in the mix to be part of a backfield-by-committee with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and possibly Terrance Ganaway. Said Stacy, "My whole mentality is to try to stay consistent and productive and to let everything else take care of itself."
Quarterback Sam Bradford has been impressed. "I think Zac's doing a great job," Bradford said. "Obviously, it's tougher for him - he's coming in as a rookie - he only had the OTAs, he didn't have the experience from last year. I've been very impressed with his ability to pick up blitzes. For young guys, that's a part of the game that a lot of guys struggle with and he seems to do a really good job with that."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The competition will ramp up at left guard starting with the preseason opener in Cleveland Thursday. Chris Williams and Shelley Smith have been alternating with the first unit, although it has appeared Williams has been getting more snaps. On the team's depth chart for the preseason opener Thursday, Smith is listed as the starter.
--S Matt Daniels was activated from the physically unable to perform list after rehabbing a knee injury suffered last season. Daniels won't play Thursday against Cleveland, but is expected to play Aug. 17 against Green Bay.
--WR Nick Johnson had been playing well early in camp, but missed the last week with a hamstring injury. He returned to practice Monday.
--S Matt Giordano missed the Saturday scrimmage and is sidelined because of a calf injury.
--LB Jabara Williams hasn't been practicing because of a hamstring injury.
--WR Andrew Helmick, from nearby Lindenwood University, turned heads in the first few practices with quickness and the ability to get open. However, he has missed the last five practices because of a hamstring injury.
--DT Al Lapuaho, who had missed several practices because of a hand injury, returned Monday.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYERS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Mario Haggan (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Trevor Laws (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Rocky McIntosh (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--WR Tavon Austin (1/8): $12,751,002/4 yrs, all guaranteed; $6,653,456 SB.
--LB Alec Ogletree (1/30): $7,030,024/4 yrs, $3,492,748 SB/$5,666,386 guaranteed/$688,638 roster/report bonus 2016.
--S T.J. McDonald (3/71): $2,926,278/4 yrs, $648,000 SB.
--WR Stedman Bailey (3/92): $2,736,102/4 yrs, $527, 400 SB.
--C Barrett Jones (4/113): $2,605,200/4 yrs, $445, 200 SB.
--CB Brandon McGee (5/149): $2,351,160/4 yrs, $191,160 SB.
--RB Zac Stacy (5/160): $2,336,500/4 yrs, $176,500 SB.
--C Tim Barnes: ERFA; $480,000/1 yr.
--QB Kellen Clemens: UFA; $870,000/1 yr, $30,000 SB.
--DT Jermelle Cudjo: Potential RFA; $1.805M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.
--DE William Hayes: UFA; $10.25M/3 yrs, $3.75M SB/$5.75M guaranteed.
--TE Mike McNeill: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--S Darian Stewart: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--G/T Chris Williams: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Jared Cook: UFA Titans; $35.1M/5 yrs, $5M SB/$19M guaranteed.
--S Matt Giordano: Not tendered as UFA by Raiders; $840,000/1 yr.
--T Jake Long: UFA Dolphins; $34M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$20M potentially guaranteed/$12M fully guaranteed).
--TE Zach Potter: Not tendered as RFA by Jaguars; $630,000/1 yr.
--LB Will Witherspoon: Not tendered as UFA by Titans; $940,000/1 yr.
--WR Danny Amendola: UFA Patriots; $31M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$10M SB.
--LB Justin Cole: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; terms unknown.
--S Craig Dahl: UFA 49ers; $5.25M/3 yrs, $700,000 SB.
--CB Bradley Fletcher: UFA Eagles; $5.25M/2 yrs, $1.6M SB/$2.35M guaranteed.
--WR Brandon Gibson: UFA Dolphins; $9.78M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$3.75M guaranteed.
--T Wayne Hunter (released).
--RB Steven Jackson: UFA Falcons; $12M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB/$4M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Mikell (released).
--TE Matthew Mulligan (released).
--T Barry Richardson: Not tendered as UFA/Titans; terms unknown.
--WR Steve Smith: UFA Buccaneers; $715,000/1 yr.
--G/C Robert Turner: UFA Titans; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB/$250,000 RB.
--G Rokevious Watkins (released).