As the St. Louis Rams wrapped up offseason mini camp at Rams Park this week, players headed off into a six-week break with an air of confidence about what they can accomplish this season.
Steven Jackson admits that it’s a feeling the likes of which he hasn’t had about the team in six or seven years.
“You can just feel it. It’s quite a difference,” Steven said after practice. “I haven’t felt this way since the 2004, 2005 years, where now it’s more so ‘when’ is it going to turn around, not ‘if’ its going to turn around.”
That confidence has been bred by another regime change in St. Louis, where new coach Jeff Fisher led his first minicamp this week. Steven said that the Rams used the camp to feel each other out and made significant progress in learning the new system on both sides of the ball.
“We have a lot of turnover from last season to this season, it’s an entirely new team, new staff,” he said. “But from what we’ve been able to accomplish through the draft, signing guys in free agency and now OTAs and minicamp, I think we’re moving at a pretty good pace. Guys are really grasping the schemes and we have some talent, so we’re actually going to be able to put together a nice team for the upcoming season.”
But Steven said what has impressed him the most in their few weeks together is Fisher’s ability to assemble a group of assistant coaches that both complement the head coach well and give the Rams what they need at different positions.
“We have very credible coaches that are teaching me and some of my teammates. It’s just impressive, what they’ve been able to accomplish in their own careers,” SJ said. “It’s very refreshing to have a coach that has that kind of resume and brings that kind of credibility. Nothing against what I’ve had before Coach Fisher, but you can definitely tell a difference in leadership, a difference in confidence.”
Of course there have been some adjustments, among them, a transition to playbooks stored completely on an iPad, rather than a spiral bound notebook. Steven complimented the change, but joked that he’ll have to keep the tablet away from his kids, who loved to download apps on theirs.
Steven is also adjusting to a new running back coach, Ben Sirmans, who counts the Rams as his first NFL job after nearly two decades at the collegiate level. No. 39 said he values Sirmans as a fresh set of eyes to help him see things he might not about himself.
“I would like to think we’re learning from each other,” S-Jax said. “He has a fresh pair of eyes where some things that I may have [developed] a bad habit or something, he has fresh eyes, he can see it. It’s going to be a learning experience for both of us.”
Sirmans and SJ will also be working with rookie running back Isaiah Pead, the Rams’ second round draft pick.
Steven got his first chance to meet Pead during the minicamp and came away impressed with his quickness and explosiveness, as well as his attitude.
He also noted that it’s tough to get a read on a player after just a few days together and he’ll be able to help Pead more in training camp.
“As the season goes, I’ll get to know it him a little more,” Steven said. “You hate to try and comment on somebody after just meeting them for a couple days but he’s a great talent, one, and he’s a great kid so far.”
Asked by reporters if there is one player on the Rams who he’s excited to watch breakout this season, S-Jax flipped to the other side of the ball and defensive end Robert Quinn, the Rams’ 2011 first round pick, who he believes is a naturally gifted pass rusher.
“Who I’m looking forward to watching the most this year is Robert Quinn,” SJ said. “His natural raw talent as a pass rusher… you’re seeing that on the football field now. I just think the sky is the limit. He has a lot of untapped talent that I think he will tap into in these coming years…. Working on the opposite side of Chris Long and with the coaching that he’s receiving right now, I’m really looking for him to have a breakout soon.”
For now, though, SJ, Quinn and the rest of their teammates will have to wait until training camp to show fans what they’re made of. Steven said the six-week break between camps is something he relishes, but is sure to go by fast.
“I’m looking forward to the next six weeks, getting ready and mentally prepared going into Year 9,” he said. “Man, how the time goes.”