TSX Report: St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson (Getty images)
Steven Jackson (Getty images)
Special to GridironGateway.com
Posted Aug 9, 2010


Playing in the NFL, especially for a running back, is like swimming in shark-infested waters. You never know where danger is lurking, and a runner tries his best to come out alive.

For Rams running back Steven Jackson, he got a taste of those sharks during a June trip to South Africa. He also reported to training camp in outstanding shape and appears to have put last season's back injury behind him.

Jackson had back surgery April 15, and missed the team's OTAs, but was raring to go when camp started for the veterans July 31.

"I felt good," he said after his first practice. "It's been a long time. I haven't had any real true football conditioning and work until today. I've been working really, really hard with my trainer all offseason to make sure that when today came I would be able to practice and be able to pretty much participate in everything.

"The back feels good. We're going on three months now and still have another month to go (until the season starts). If I had to have the surgery, I think we did it at the right time. Everything is up. Everything is going good."

Jackson didn't practice Saturday morning (Aug. 7) or participate in the team's scrimmage that evening, but coach Steve Spagnuolo said that has been the plan.

Said Spagnuolo, "No alarms here. That was part of the program that (trainer) Reggie (Scott) and I decided way back, so he won't go in the scrimmage tonight. This gives him 48 hours right now to make sure we're OK. He'll be back on Monday, he'll be fine.

"He said to Reggie the other day that it feels exactly where it should be. He's no worse, no better. He does want to push it a little bit next week, and we'll do that. I think he's right about on track where we thought, and then knock on wood we can stay that way. We'll see what we'll do when we get to that first game (next Saturday against Minnesota), and have to make that decision."

Still, it was an upbeat Jackson as camp opened, compared to the guy that endured his back injury at the end of the 2009 season and played five of the final six games despite the pain that radiated down his leg.

"That last five, six weeks of the season was pretty painful," admitted. "But, pulling through I think I proved a lot to myself, to be able to fight through that pain and still be somewhat productive. I think I proved a lot to myself, and I'm really excited about the season and ready to get after it now."

Asked about contact, he said, "It's not about the hits. The back is fully healed. We really worked hard this offseason to make sure the durability will still be there. I can still run in the natural way I'm used to running. I don't have to adjust my style for anything. I think it's more so just getting my feet underneath me again, making the cuts I'm able to make and working on the field of vision. You know, like I said, it's been since the San Francisco game since I actually played football, so all month that's what I've been working on, the techniques, getting under my shoulder pads and things of that nature. The football, the hitting ... I'm not worried about it. I'll be ready to go."

He was also ready to go for the shark dive, where he was protected in a cage. Jackson also saw a few World Cup games when he was in South Africa.

"It was a neat experience," Jackson said. "I did a shark cage dive with great whites in South Africa. It was pretty exciting, man. The biggest shark that I had a chance to see underwater was 18 feet (long). You could have mistaken him for a whale. But it's pretty amazing to see great whites up close and personal. I actually witnessed one hunting and devouring a seal. That was pretty nerve wracking under the water. But you know, it was one of those things on the bucket list that I always wanted to do. I did it, I won't do it again, but you know ... I lived to tell about it."

So, Steven, did watching the seal be devoured cause a loss of appetite?

He said, "No, no. It makes you forget about the cold, icy water. I'll tell you that. You kind of get the blood going."

What about the adrenaline rush?

"You know, the adrenaline rush is amazing," Jackson said. "There's nothing like it. It's not even like running out of the tunnel or anything. It's getting in the water and then having to use the oxygen tank. The main thing is to control your breathing. You can actually go into panic mode down there."

Finally, Jackson talked about what he was most fearful of during the experience. He said, "Anytime I tell this story I think the scariest thing is not seeing the shark when he disappears into the murky water. It didn't help that I was watching Shark Week all week."

Now, Jackson is back to wondering what defensive players might disappear and be lurking somewhere.

NOTES, QUOTES

Early in the week, his first full week of training camp, not everything was rosy for quarterback Sam Bradford.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, after an Aug. 3 practice, "He's had some good throws and some bad ones. He threw one into the wind that kind of floated up there. I'm sure he wanted that one back. I do like the fact that when he makes a mistake, he's not very happy and he shows it. He's got some feistiness to him. I think that's good in a quarterback."

Bradford has been processing a lot of information in a short period of time. "We've put a lot in every day," he said. "And the more we put in, the more I have to think. ... Once we get everything in and I've repped everything, I think I'll feel more comfortable. I think it's just a matter of me really adjusting to the speed and all the different variations can that occur in a play.

"All the different blitz pickups ... obviously that just takes time and experience. That's something I need to work on. I don't want to get myself killed. But I think once I get in the film room, study a little bit more on our protections, how they work, how the blitzes work, what we can protect and what we need (to check out of), then I think that'll be very helpful for me."

Then came Friday (Aug. 6) when Bradford put on an impressive show. Coaches have had the offense working with a 35-second clock instead of 40 to get in and out of plays quickly.

Said Spagnuolo, "He had some nice throws there, didn't he? From the standpoint of scoring points, he did. I thought he did a nice job today. We put those quarterbacks, I don't know if you noticed it, on a speed-up, if that's a word. They're doing a really good job with it."

Quarterback A.J. Feeley told cnnsi.com, "Every day he sees the field more and more, and you can see it coming. He's starting to get it. You can just tell. Today he just had his best day of practice since he's been here."

The humble Bradford, who believes nothing should be handed to him, said, "That's just part of my personality, but I do feel that way because I haven't done anything in this league yet. I realize everything has to be earned. I don't want anything given to me. I don't want any reps given to me. I don't want to play because I'm the No. 1 pick. I want to play because the coaches and staff feel that I'm the guy who gives us the best chance to win. That's kind of my approach to everything."

As for his Friday practice, Bradford said, "Today was definitely one of my better practices. It's always nice when you have days like that, especially this early, when sometimes it's a grind and I feel like I'm struggling and things are tougher than what they were in college. So to come out there and have a day like that, it really does kind of give you some confidence. In your head, you're like, 'OK, I can do this.'"

- The Rams were hoping for some leadership and depth from defensive tackle Chris Hovan, but instead the team was quick to place him on injured reserve Aug. 6 because of a back injury.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "It's one of those, 'Is it going to be five days? Is it going to be three weeks? Is it going to be five weeks? We just need the guys out practicing and Chris understands that. Rather than play the waiting game, we decided to put him on IR.

"It could be one of those, it's a five-day rest deal and he bounces back but then he gets set back. You just don't know. What you don't want to do is go through three weeks of training camp and wear the other guys out because we don't have enough bodies. We just decided to go that route. Chris and I talked. He's a warrior."

- General manager Billy Devaney said "the light has gone on" for Larry Grant, who remains ahead of Bobby Carpenter on the depth chart at weak-side linebacker.

Asked about Carpenter's adjustment to the defense, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "It's taking a little while because it is a little bit different for him, but I see like even today he grabbed the jersey and I just remind him to cover with your feet. Don't be lazy and grab the jersey. He works really well with James Laurinaitis and all the other (Ohio State) Buckeye linebackers (grant and Na'il Diggs). They do; they have a good relationship, that whole group of linebackers. I think they're working pretty hard."

- Second-year running back Chris Ogbonnaya is expected to get a lot of playing time in the preseason opener Saturday against Minnesota. A seventh-round pick, Ogbonnaya was on the practice squad for most of the 2009 season before being active for the final six games and playing in the final two.

Noting one thing impressive about Ogbonnaya, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "You know what, you don't see this because you guys are probably not close enough to it. In the back when he's not even in for a rep, he's actually coaching the other guys or saying, 'Let's get going.' For a second-year guy that came in like he did and earned his way, he's starting to develop as kind of a vocal leader. He's a very smart football player. (Running backs) coach (Sylvester) Croom talks about it all the time. Just got to keep giving him the ball and keep letting him develop his running skills."

Said Ogbonnaya, "Even though I'm a young guy, having somewhat of a leadership role helps. I definitely want to help the team a lot more than I did last year. Being more vocal, especially now that I know what to do, helps everybody else get lined up and get in order.

"The older guys like it. They want me to be a little more confident, especially if I am going to be on the field. It helps the linemen. I think the linemen feed off that kind of stuff. You have somebody in your ear constantly telling you we just have to keep moving forward. It really helps."

As for what he can do on the field, Ogbonnaya said, "I know my abilities. I know that Steven (Jackson) trusts me, and I know that (fullback) Mike (Karney) trusts me to make plays and be in the right spot.

"As does coach Croom and the rest of the staff. It's my job to continue to do that and make sure that I'm doing my best in being disciplined in the offense."

- Former Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander visited the Rams Aug. 2 and is hopeful of eventually signing with the team.

Alexander had three knee surgeries during his career at Missouri, and then broke out last season with 113 receptions for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, he suffered another knee injury during a Senior Bowl practice, underwent surgery and was cleared medically about three weeks ago.

Alexander took a physical with the Rams, which he passed, but did not work out.

Said general manager Billy Devaney, "We had a really good visit with him. He's a classy, classy kid. Everybody in the building was glad to meet him. Everything we had heard about him was true. We'll continue to monitor his training, stay in touch, and see where we are as we go along."

The biggest question after rehabbing the entire offseason is how he would withstand practices. It's possible the Rams could sign him later in the summer, and hope to eventually add him to the practice squad.

"The Rams seemed like they're pretty interested, so we'll see what happens," Alexander told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I met Spags and he seemed like a good guy and seemed pretty excited to see me. I got a good vibe from everybody I met there."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm like stainless steel, man. Rustproof. But playing football is definitely something where muscle memory has to be re-acclimated. That's what I'm doing right now." - Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe on being in training camp after missing the team's offseason work.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Added to the roster were DT Ernest Reid and C Tim Mattran. Reid was signed after the rookie minicamp in April, but had been released June 16. Mattran was with the Rams in training camp last year, and spent the few weeks of the season on the Raiders' practice squad.

In addition to DT Chris Hovan, G Mark Lewis was waived/injured because of an ankle injury and went on injured reserve after clearing waivers.

PLAYER NOTES:

- CB Ron Bartell is sidelined with a sprained ankle suffered near the end of 9-on-7 passing drills Aug. 3

- S James Butler could be sidelined for an extended period of time after suffered a sprained MCL in his knee.

- DT Chris Hovan was placed on injured reserve Aug. 6 because of a back injury suffered early in training camp.

- OG Mark Lewis was waived/injured Aug. 6 because of an ankle injury suffered in the first few days of training camp.

- LB Larry Grant continues to work with the first team at weak-side linebacker after a solid first week of training camp.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema, Michael Hoomanawanui and Fendi Onobun for TE jobs -- This position will be hotly contested throughout the summer. Onobun appears more advanced than some thought, considering he played one season of college football. Fells is the incumbent, but has to show he can be consistent. Hoomanawanui seems like a natural. Bajema is a solid blocker.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: Rookie Jerome Murphy and Kevin Dockery could be fighting for the nickel-back job. Dockery has made an impact with his aggressiveness. ... Unless someone is added to the roster, Chris Ogbonnaya is getting the opportunity to be the backup to running back Steven Jackson.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Danny Amendola. After the selection of Mardy Gilyard in the fourth round of the draft, the belief was that Amendola would have a hard time making the team. Both are slot receivers and kick returners. While Gilyard is learning, Amendola has caught everything in sight, and has been one of the team's consistent receivers day in and day out. It wouldn't be a surprise if both Gilyard and Amendola made the final roster.

ROOKIE REPORT: OT Rodger Saffold remains entrenched at left tackle, and judging by what happens in preseason games, will likely stay there, with Jason Smith playing right tackle ... LB Josh Hull will be looking to make an impact on special teams in preseason games.

INJURY REPORT: It was a tough week for the team's defensive backs. On Tuesday, Aug. 3, cornerback Ron Bartell injured his ankle and a couple days later, safety James Butler suffered a sprained MCL. For Bartell, X-rays were negative for a sprained of his lower ankle. Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "It's a day-to-day thing. That was really good news, because the way he fell down, you thought it was worse than it came out."

The news wasn't as good for Butler, who missed some games last season because of a knee injury. Said Spagnuolo, "It's one that's going to keep him out a little while. I don't want to classify it as significant, but he's going to be out for a while. We'll take it day-to-day, but I think it will be an extended injury."

Tackle Jason Smith has started working more in team drills as he recovers from a toe injury, and got in some snaps Saturday night in the team's scrimmage ... Defensive tackle Darell Scott, who has been limited since injuring his hamstring in the team's conditioning run July 31, is expected to begin practicing Monday.

Others with minor injuries are linebacker Na'il Diggs (quad), defensive end James Hall (groin), guard Jacob Bell (oblique), fullback Mike Karney (hamstring), wide receivers Mardy Gilyard (wrist), Brandon Gibson (hamstring) and Brooks Foster (groin), safety Kevin Payne (quad).

Running back Keith Toston suffered a concussion during Thursday (Aug. 5) practice and did not practice the next day. Spagnuolo said, "He took the impact test this morning, passed it. Then they move on to exertion and see what the symptoms are and he wasn't great there so they just kept him out." Toston practiced Saturday morning, but didn't participate in contact work.



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