The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Ian Rapoport visits the St. Louis Rams.
Where is NFL Media?
It looks and feels like training camp, with warm, sticky weather and fields as far as the eye can see. The Rams' practice facility in Earth City, Missouri, is surrounded by festive floats and gated off family areas. There was also a drone high into the air watching practice.
1) The blockbuster trade happened months ago, but it's still jarring to see Nick Foles, instead of Sam Bradford, under center in St. Louis. The reality is, armed with a new extension, the fit seems like a great one. After a few shaky weeks facing Gregg Williams' defense in practice (he doesn't hold back), Foles has reached a comfort level. Thanks in part to a newly stocked quarterback room featuring offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and QB coach Chris Weinke, Foles has returned to his West Coast Offense roots. It's the mental part that's key, being asked to do a lot with protections and getting the team in and out of the right plays. But he's put in the work, and the players have already taken to him.
2) With a healthy quarterback, the Rams hope to have the steadiness at that position they haven't had for years. Because really, they don't need Foles to do too much; not with Williams' defense returning essentially every starter, plus adding Nick Fairley to an already nasty defensive line headlined by Chris Long and Aaron Donald. The defense isn't holding back in practice, giving this young offensive line fits. Word is, it's starting to look like it did at the end of last year when they dominated at times. Plus, this defense is so young, the principals could stay together for years. A legitimately scary proposition.
3) While the team practiced on one field, a pad-less rookie ran routes against air and caught passes. He looked completely normal, which is the curse of Todd Gurley, their first-round pick. He's so athletic that even when he's rated at 90 percent on a surgically repaired knee, he looks 100 percent. But make no mistake, Gurley isn't ready yet. He won't play in the preseason. I'm told the Rams don't even expect him to be ready for the season. They believe he'll miss the first couple games, not wanting to risk injury until he's ready. The ligament is strong, but the area around it isn't there yet. With so much invested in a player compared to a young Adrian Peterson, St. Louis will be cautious. But the future is so bright for Gurley, team personnel can barely contain themselves.
Nick Fairley, DT: Free agency didn't materialize like Fairley wanted, with the big-money deal offered to the likes of former teammate Ndamukong Suh never arriving. So Fairley made the best decision available: He signed with the Rams for one year to help solidify the best D-line in the NFL. Suddenly, St. Louis has starters as backups and a hungry Fairley ready to prove his worth.
Frank Cignetti, offensive coordinator: By the time the Rams hired an offensive coordinator, nobody noticed. It was Cignetti, formerly their QB coach. But it was treated like an oh-by-the-way move rather than breaking news. Interestingly, Cignetti had previously turned down other chances to be an NFL coordinator, waiting for the right opportunity. This is it, with young talent at receiver, a stud back, and Foles, who is more than eager to learn. The Mike McCarthy disciple will make his mark.
"I've had some really good defenses in the past. I've had some really good ones across the league in other teams. They have the makings of (that), but we have to stay healthy. Some of the offenses, hopefully they'll cooperate, too, and not play as well."
-- Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, downright giddy about the potential of his unit. He has a reason to be.
» The Rams are the youngest team in the NFL, as they always seem to be. That's the vibe of this team, as well. Young, loud, energetic, amped up.