Rams put on pads for special teams practice

ST. LOUIS — The Rams put on the pads Monday morning for the first time in training camp and went through some special teams drills, which produced some spirited moments.

“This special teams practice helped me out a lot last year and my role on the team last year, so I know other guys that were in my position last year they’re trying to fight just like I was,” linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong said. “This day right here, this special teams practice, is very important.”

It was in a similar practice a year ago that Armstrong and fellow linebacker Daren Bates helped stake their claim to roster spots. Both players, then rookies, went on to become special teams stalwarts.

“Last year there were some veteran guys that got beat out on a day like today by Ray Ray and Daren and Chase (Reynolds),” said Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel. “That’s where they made the team. So the rookies and new guys this year were trying to do to them what they did last year to the guys that didn’t make the team. So that’s kind of the way it works, and it’s a great way to see guys compete.”

Armstrong and recently signed linebacker Lawrence Wilson got after each other at the conclusion of one drill, which simulated blocking and covering a kickoff. They had to be separated before calming down.

“It’s all competing,” Armstrong said. “It’s all a competition. It’s football. Some tempers flare up here and there. We’ve got pads on. It was the first day. It’s all fun and games.”

Another similar drill saw players take on double-team blocks as part of working downfield to go after the kickoff returners. It was on that drill that saw rookie cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, the team’s second-round pick, take on wide receiver Stedman Bailey and cornerback Brandon McGee, a pair of second-year players.

“They put me against the Miami Heat, is what they call those guys, Bailey and Brandon McGee,” Joyner said. “Two of the toughest guys in the league and they put me up against those guys. I had to be a man. They threw me in the fire early but I enjoyed it. I love football. It’s a physical game and I love getting dirty.”

The highlight of the practice session was the final drill, which had players going one on one in a simulation of punt coverage team. One player worked to cover 20 yards to get to a practice dummy while the other player tried his best to block him.

“That last drill I think the biggest thing was guys’ willingness to compete, because we didn’t script matchups. They just called themselves out,” Fassel said. “A couple guys probably went three or four times and we’ll probably see on tape that maybe some guys didn’t go or maybe went one time. That’s part of it. But also we’re looking for being better finishers as blockers as far as staying penalty-free and then being better finishers covering kicks. That’s really what that drill was, the last 15-20 yards was covering a kick one-on-one matchup.”

Fassel praised the work of Armstrong, Bates, Joyner and also seventh-round pick Michael Sam, the defensive end who is working to show the Rams he can be a contributor on special teams.

“I think he’s dropped probably about 15 pounds and you can tell the difference running like we did today, 30 to 50 to 70 yards. That’s helped him a lot," Fassel said. "Then, this last drill, this competitive drill, he did a real good job as a blocker. I could see him being a real good guy on punt return and kickoff return as a blocker as we continue to groom him covering kicks, which requires long speed. Which is something that he’ll develop.”

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com

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