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Bradford takes center stage at Rams camp, but others are in focus too

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By Eric Edholm

(NOTE: Updated with Fendi Odobun as sixth-round pick, not an undrafted rookie.)

ST. LOUIS — I opened my car door after driving down from Chicago this morning and my sunglasses instantly fogged up.

And as if that didn't worry me about the heat, then there was this: three bolts of lightning from the suddenly ominous sky.

That was enough for Steve Spagnuolo, who started practice outside but had to bring the troops indoors.

"We had a little adjustment we had to make," Spags said. "But the guys responded and had a good practice."

Among those guys — drumroll please — was Sam Bradford. He's the subject of my feature story, which you can read tomorrow elsewhere on this site.

Yes, Sam was impressive again. (Though I am guessing this was not one of his two or three best practices of camp.)

But what interested me today was the rest of this team. Last year's 1-15 season is in the past, but the memory is fresh. And though the roster has seen a good share of turnover, there remain a lot of players from that squad here.

That said, I was impressed with a few things I saw and still have questions about others. Some of it I'll cover in the Bradford story.

But here were a few noticeable plays from practice:

  • OT Rodger Saffold is a big kid, but he is a bit squatty and doesn't look like he's built like a left tackle. That is, until you watch him move out there. He comes out of his stance effortlessly and kicks and slides well. He's a natural lefthander, and he has impressed the staff to the point where he's settling on the left side and keeping Jason Smith on the right for now. Safford hasn't been told differently about where he'll play this year, but he'd be happy just getting the chance to play anywhere, he said. Saffold also said he's feeling a little physically drained, but he knows that it's part of training camp. When he has a good practice (and the folks around here who I have talked to were impressed), he has heard encouraging words. He knows that learning the playbook so quickly gave him a huge leg up when it came time to report to camp. "The better that you know the plays, the more you can slow things down," he said. "I am able to understand the basic concepts, but once the concepts start merging into each other, you start knowing what you have to do. It becomes second nature."
  • The tight end battle has been "thick" according to Spagnuolo, and I can see why. The Rams have five players vying at that position, and none are established players with a guaranteed roster spot. But there are a few intriguing players, including sixth-rounder Fendi Onobun. Although Onobun was too high in his pass-blocking technique in drills early in practice, allowing fellow rookie, LB Josh Hull get past him, Onobun responded with a nice block on James Laurinaitis the next time he got the chance. Late in practice, Darcy Johnson, whom Spagnuolo was with in New York, made a good catch from Bradford, surprising the Rams' players with his athleticism. On the next series, QB A.J. Feeley hit Daniel Fells, a carryover from last season, with a dart on an in-cut, splitting the safeties for a would-be touchdown.
  • DE George Selvie could work himself into a third-down pass-rush role. He shows good technique rushing the passer, but it's clear that the Rams are force-feeding him (and the fellow rookie defensive ends, especially Eugene Sims) work against the run. Selvie could learn to use better leverage, but he might be too good a pass rusher to keep off the field at some point.
  • OLB Larry Grant is working with the first team ahead of Bobby Carpenter, but he was stood up by rookie FB Jamie McCoy in pass-blocking drills. But I have heard from people here that Grant typically has shown off his strength well in camp.
  • DE Chris Long might be ready for a really nice season. Fans have been down on him because he hasn't sacked the quarterback as much as they had hoped, but that's not really his game. It has been easy for people to point at Long and say that the Rams should have taken Matt Ryan, but I believe that argument will become extinct when they see how good Bradford can be. And it won't hurt if, as I think will happen, Long has a really strong season. He's great against the run and could be a very good anchor on the left side. Remember, this division could be a run-based operation now with Kurt Warner retiring, the Seahawks wanting some more balance and the 49ers getting back to smashmouth football. I expect Long to do well. He had a good practice today from what I saw.
  • Hull, who was a bit overshadowed at Penn State, showed up a few times in pass-rush drills. I want to see him in a game.
  • DT Fred Robbins is a good football player. He's one of those guys whom I predicted the end for several times in New York, but he might be a nice addition for this team. Robbins ... I don't want to call him an overachiever, but that's what he is in my mind. He actually has a lot of ability, but for some dumb reason I am always late to recognize it. Good player. He took down backup RB Chris Ogbonnaya behind the line of scrimmage in team drills. If practice had been held outside, it would have been live, and Robbins would have buried him.
  • Ah yes, Bradford. He's the future star of this team, but right now he's just trying to earn a starting job. He's pretty humble, but you need to watch the way this kid hums the ball in practice. He can really throw it well. It comes out cleanly, he throws with confidence and can change arm angles and get rid of the ball off balance well. He still has some things to clean up, of course. But there's a lot to like, even after what I would call a good but not great practice for him today.

I'll be back tomorrow morning for practice, but I'll be heading back tomorrow immediately afterwards to race and try to catch Bears camp at 3 in Bourbonnais, so you won't hear from me here until later tomorrow night.

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