By Rams Nation's Barry Waller
Kennedy missed most of last week’s rookie indoctrination at Rams Park with a slightly “tweaked” knee, and after practicing twice Friday and looking fine, his back started acting up in the London style weather. Mike Martz seemed a bit irked by Kennedy missing more valuable time on the field working with DL coach Bill Kollar, or at least by being asked about his absence.
Martz explained that playing with the slight knee strain may have caused the back problem, and added that, “Jimmy is embarrassed about it.” If it’s true that the two injuries are really one incident where a fluke slip caused the knee problem last week, and not a sign of Kennedy being less than ready physically for the rigors of the NFL, then Kennedy should not be too troubled about the situation.
After all, he has plenty of time to show his stuff in training camp, where linemen really earn their jobs anyway, and the important thing is not to tell everyone the knee is ready to go, when maybe it isn’t, and then favoring it until another problem results. Hopefully Jimmy will be fine in July, but the way the NFL careers of Robert Thomas, Damione Lewis, Ryan Pickett, Trung Canidate, and other top rookies began, with minor injuries destroying their chance to contribute, Rams fans are always on baited breath when a high pick gets dinged up at all.
Williams proclaimed himself 85% fit after practice, and said that he feels he will be firing on all cylinders by training camp. Having him out on the field as what amounts to an additional coach is just as valuable as seeing him put in a few more reps.
The Rams may have lots of new faces, but when you look around at Rams Park and see Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Ike Bruce, Williams, Grant Wistrom, Adam Timmerman, Torry Holt, Adam Archuleta, Leonard Little, and Kyle Turley taking roles as leaders to the newcomers, it’s obvious this is still a very very good team that should be a favorite again to go all the way. When Orlando Pace’s agent quits playing games and gets “big O” into training camp, the glass becomes even more full.
There are always a handful of players who make a big jump in effectiveness in camp, and so far this year the prime candidate to make such a move is wide receiver Troy Edwards, who dropped significant weight, mostly, as he admitted “in my gut”, and has been sensational in mini-camp. He and Holt could trade jerseys in practice, and it would be hard to tell which is which, as Troy is looking super quick and catching everything thrown his way.
Chances are the Rams won’t be able to retain Troy after the season, when his contract expires, especially if he has a big season as the #3. Troy is playing like a man who feels a real sense of urgency in his walk year, both to make his name a hot topic in free agency, like Az- Zahir Hakim did in 2001, cashing in after the season as a result. That’s bad for the long term, but very good for 2003, and the Rams are fine with that situation for Edwards, who has become a real Martz favorite.
When he arrived in 2002, it was very late in pre-season, and he came in knowing he would miss a few weeks with a bum knee. Anytime a player moves that late, it’s a very difficult situation, as they have had to time to bond with teammates or learn a system in camp. Coming in injured just added to Edwards woes, and it was almost as if Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who Edwards never saw eye to eye with from the start, waited to dump the former first rounder when it would be worst for him.
Tackle Grant Williams also was in a state of shock when the Rams acquired his services last August 19th, and then he was forced to play when the starters sustained injuries, finally going down himself for the season in mid October, after a serious leg injury. Williams is another guy who seems to be tremendously helped by the work of Rams strength and conditioning coaches Dana LeDuc and Chris Clausen. In his days at Texas and Miami, LeDuc sent many linemen to the NFL that he helped mold from average players to very good ones in the weight room.
Williams is a naturally huge man anyway, perhaps the tallest Ram of all at 6’8”, but his upper body looks twice as big as it did last season. If Pace continues to be obstinate through pre-season, Williams improvement could be a key factor for the team in 2003.
Robert Thomas also is looked far beefier than in his rookie year, and really looks like a middle linebacker should now, which is what it looks like he will be in 2003. Another standout so far is cornerback Travis Fisher, who was a revelation as a rookie, forced into playing more than anyone ever wanted him to. Even with his fantastic and surprising performance late in 2002, one always worries whether a player will be as good during their sophomore NFL campaign. Fisher has put most of those worries away with a terrific Mini-camp so far.
The Rams are thin at defensive end in 2003, but Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom are as good as any NFL club has at the position, and both are looking very pumped up to start playing football for keeps. In fact, Martz admitted Saturday that there was something “missing” from practices and the whole atmosphere at Rams Park in 2002. Martz is obviously encouraged by the fact that the first few practices in Mini-Camp have contained the type enthusiasm and effort he saw in 2001, as well as the leadership his core players are providing.
Though Kennedy is looking to start doing his thing later more than sooner in a Rams uniform, Pickett and Lewis have seen most of the action at tackle, and both look good. Lewis is flashing the quickness at the snap that has been missing since his foot gave out in 2001, maybe even before that, and Pickett is really looking intense and far more mature as well in 2003. Archuleta has been impressive in practice as well, which is certainly no shock.
The biggest unknown in the Rams starting lineup is fullback J.R. Niklos, who Rams fans never got to see at all in 2002. Now he looks to start, and what he has shown so far is that he is a far faster player and better receiver than James Hodgins, and a guy who could really be a big surprise if he justifies Martz and Charlie Armey’s faith in him right away.
On the down side, Kim Herring is not having a good mini-camp, and just looks very slow trying to cover the Rams pack of greyhounds. Right now, Nick “Sunshine” Sorenson, looks like the far better safety at Rams Park, but his ball awareness still seems to be a nagging problem, something Dexter McCleon never was able to improve. The Rams will be a better defense if Sorenson, bigger with better hands and speed than Herring, with a far lower salary, can oust the incumbent and become the starter by the end of training camp.
Terrence Wilkins looks like the eighth or ninth best receiver in practice, and he should not be looking to buy home in St. Louis anytime soon.
The Rams close out camp with one practice Sunday, then hit the weight room once again to get ready for that trip north to Macomb, Illinois.