While they may not immediately transform into winners, new head coach Steve Spagnuolo -- who came over from the incredibly physical NFC East -- is already changing the environment in St. Louis. According to everyone who has visited the Rams, this is one of the most intense and physical camps in recent memory.
Steve Wyche of NFL.com notes a fast-pace and high level of contact, in addition to a lack of negativity. If a mistake is made by a player, the coaches will tell him how to do it right, instead of simply informing the player he's wrong. This took Wyche back to a relatively similar situation last season.
I saw Falcons coach Mike Smith use the same strategy last year in his first camp with the Falcons and, as we know, it paid benefits. The positive reinforcement amid a demanding camp helps guys, especially young guys, which the Rams have plenty of, get through.John Clayton of ESPN and Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch both witnessed what Thomas described as a "hellacious" hit by Chris Chamberlain on Steven Jackson. Jackson is the face of the Rams franchise, a legitimate star running back, and he was cut down at the knees by last year's seventh-round pick who is trying to make the roster. Spagnuolo's only complaint was to keep the hits away from the knees in camp. Jackson himself was fine with the contact.
"It happens in football," he said. "He got a little low. But it's understood. It was an accident. It wasn't anything done intentionally."All things considered, it really is night and day from 2008 in Camp Ram. This time last year, the Rams were going through the motions, without pads half the time, and Jackson was sitting at home awaiting a new contract.
This time around, Spagnuolo is pushing his young team to the limit, and Jackson has emerged as the leader of the team with departures of long-time Rams Orlando Pace and Torry Holt.
"I'm just trying to be an all-around captain for the offense, and set my example on the practice field," Jackson said. "Show guys how to practice. Show guys how to work."So things sound like they are going well under the Spagnuolo regime thus far, even though it's only been around a week of intensity.
"He's right on target," Spagnuolo said. "He's done a great job. He did a great job in the offseason. He's in great shape. So far so good."
When the calendar turns, things will get a lot more real. The Rams don't look to have the horses, other than Jackson, to put together a scary offense and the defense is still a young work in progress. All the contact drills, intensity and leadership in the world can't account for a lack of game-ready talent.
That being said, 2009 is supposed to be a rebuilding year in St. Louis. Anything more than five wins will be gravy. The importance in the 2009 season is in the foundation for the future of the franchise. From all early accounts, Spagnuolo, along with some help from his dynamic running back, has the team headed in the right direction.