There's been plenty to be optimistic about at Rams Park this spring and the beginning of organized team activities has just heightened that feeling.
The Rams have been working hard this week under new coach Jeff Fisher, as they work to learn a new system, adapt to new schemes and integrate new players. Team leader Steven Jackson said Wednesday that the process has been good so far.
"Everything is going pretty well. We're getting a lot of work, not only with our individual coaches, but scenarios — backed up, four-minute offense, we did a little two-minute yesterday. So we're getting a wide-range of work in a short amount of time."
One thing Steven has especially enjoyed about working with the new coaches is the relaxed atmosphere brought about by coach Fisher. SJ noted that the coach allows the team an "off day" on Thursday when, instead of running through the same monotonous drills, the players get to compete in a conditioning exercise that Fisher has made into a game.
"You can still compete and have fun and just enjoy each other,"
S-Jax said. "Things like that, that change the monotony of things but still get the job done, those little subtle things help form camaraderie and guys getting to know each other."
During Wednesday's session, the Rams ran through regular drills and had some of their rookies simulate game style crowd noise. Steven joked that it allowed the younger players to "be useful" while the veterans got their work in. Despite the expected ribbing that he and some of the other veterans have given the inexperienced newcomers, SJ39 likes what he's seen so far from the rookies.
"I've had a chance to talk to quite a few of the rookies, most of them are very humble and they're very excited about the opportunity to play here in St. Louis. That's positive, that's a good thing looking forward," he said. "We have some big athletic guys, some guys that I believe are going to contribute right away. We're going to throw guys into the fire and I think they'll be able to respond well…of course they have to go through a learning curve, but that's why you have veterans around."
One notable absence from OTAs was rookie running back Isaiah Pead, the Rams' second round selection. Pead is still finishing up classes at the University of Cincinnati and Steven said the rookie is scheduled to join the Rams on June 8.
"I don't know much about Pead. I'm looking forward to meeting him, looking forward to mentoring him, playing with him," Steven said. "The season doesn't start until September. You won't even remember that he wasn't here right now."
No. 39 takes pride in his knowledge of the game and is always willing to pass some of it on to a teammate. He tries to stay as approachable as possible without trying to force anything on younger players.
"Any time I get a young running back in the room with me, and he has a question, I try to answer it," he said. "I try to answer it in a way that he gets it. Everybody learns differently. I've been fortunate enough that I'm able to be relatable in the situations and helping them understand certain things in the offense."
But Steven believes there is a fine line between forming a relationship with younger players and forcing a relationship on them. That's why he tries to stay away from instructing a player until they come to him and ask for help.
"Those kinds of things happen gradually. You have to let natural relationships happen over time," he said. "The first couple of weeks, they're just overwhelmed not only with the information that they're receiving, but I'm pretty sure they've watched us over the years play football, so they have to get over the awe of it as well. But these guys, once you get in between the lines, they're doing a good job. They're football players."
While the rookies learn the ropes of the league, veterans like Steven have some learning to do as well.
The turnover of the coaching staff means a new offensive system for St. Louis. But SJ39 noted that the offense run by coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is very similar to the one the Rams ran under Pat Shurmur in 2009 and 2010.
"This offense is very similar, not identical," he said. "The learning curve has not been too harsh on myself. Sam (Bradford) is looking good, our receivers, we have a deep group that is very competitive that's going to not only help us, but is also going to bring the best out of each individual guy. All in all, as an offense we're looking good."
Steven was especially complimentary of new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, who was with the Rams during 2006, the best season of Steven's career and rejoins the team after four years with the Atlanta Falcons.
"What he's doing with the offensive line is very impressive," S-Jax said. "We have some key additions up front. What we had and what we brought in here, I think, is going to make us better as an offensive unit… Although our tackles are young, they're very athletic and we can really do some big things once we get everyone jelling."
SJ39 expects that the Rams will be better as a team in 2012, but said it's difficult to tell how and why based on only a few team activities.
"Some guys look good in shorts and some guys look better in pads," he said. "It's really hard to tell now who is going to showup, especially in crunch time. But we definitely have a pool of talent. It's going to make it really hard on the coaching staff and the front office to make the decision when they have to cut down the roster. But that's a good thing for us."