Fisher realistic about rebuilding task
After a year away, Jeff Fisher returned to the NFL refreshed,
renewed and best of all, patient. Rebuilding the St. Louis Rams
might take time.
Fisher inherits a handful of key veterans from a 2-14 season
that got coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney
fired. Surrounding quarterback Sam Bradford, middle linebacker
James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and select free agent
pickups, there’s mostly kids.
Expectations are realistic heading into the opener at Detroit,
and not just because of what happened last season. Take away a
seven-win season in 2010 that seemingly marked the Rams as a
franchise on the rise, and they’re 8-56 since 2007.
For the new regime of Fisher and general manager Les Snead,
there’s no better time to build from the ground up.
”If there’s a drop-off in production or there’s mistakes and
things like that or there’s a younger player that’s got an upside,
we’re going to give that younger player a chance,” said the
54-year-old Fisher, entering his 17th season as an NFL head coach.
”In those certain areas where there is competition, we tried to
create at least an even opportunity for them as best we can.”
After a 35-point blowout loss in the preseason opener to the
Colts, who tied the Rams for the NFL’s worst record last year,
Laurinaitis noted that ”It’s not Armageddon.”
The deal with the Redskins for the No. 2 overall pick and the
right to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III left the Rams with
three of the first 39 selections in April plus additional
first-rounders in 2013 and 2014.
The first eight picks from the draft are all liable to make the
final roster, with defensive tackle Michael Brockers and cornerback
Janoris Jenkins starting. Both specialists are new, too, with
sixth-round pick Greg ”the Leg” Zuerlein booting three 50-plus
yard field goals in the preseason and undrafted punter Johnny
Hekker showing promise.
Sure, Hekker will shank some. Zuerlein is bound to miss an easy
The Rams will live and learn with it, up and down the roster.
Before the initial round of cuts, there were 40 players age 24 or
younger on the 90-man roster. Nine starters, including Bradford,
fit in that group.
”Considering where we are as a franchise, you’re not scared to
do it,” general manager Les Snead said. ”Growing pains. Spilled
milk, I call it.”
Fisher seems comfortable with the green roster, even seems to
”Somebody told me that it might be the youngest in the history
of the NFL. Then, that would mean it would be my youngest, too,”
Fisher said with a grin. ”But that’s OK. We’ve got some speed and
we’ve got some talented athletes.
”If it is young, then it’s only going to get better. And that’s
the approach we’re taking.”
Since the minicamps and OTAs, Fisher has been working on
instilling a positive attitude and brushing aside the bad old days.
He swatted away questions about the history of failure until they
finally faded away, and repeatedly told players they should expect
”I think he’s a real people’s coach,” said tight end Lance
Kendricks, a second-rounder last season. ”He really stresses
keeping your head in the books and knowing what you’ve got to know.
”But at the same time he gives us the opportunity to stay healthy
and stay fresh.
The biggest question is probably a rebuilt offensive line now
minus tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 who has
been dogged by concussion woes. Smith was a second-stringer, beat
out by low-budget free agent pickup Barry Richardson, before
getting traded on Monday to the Jets for backup tackle Wayne
Bradford missed six games with a high left ankle sprain last
year and hobbled through a couple other games. A healthy Bradford
backed by Steven Jackson, seeking his eighth 1,000-yard season,
should give the NFL’s worst offense in 2011 a fighting chance.
The Rams lack a true No 1 wide receiver, but ace possession slot
man Danny Amendola is back after missing virtually all of last
season. They believe Steve Smith, who led the NFL with 107
receptions in 2009 for the Giants, is all the way back from
microfracture surgery to his left knee late in 2010.
There are young developing legs in second-rounder Brian Quick
and fourth-rounder Chris Givens. Isaiah Pead, a second-rounder, is
expected to by the quality backup behind Jackson in several
More scoring for the Rams, who averaged just 12 points, would
take the heat off a defense that typically lost steam after
halftime and barely avoided setting a franchise record for yards
allowed. There are three quality pieces in cornerback Cortland
Finnegan, who played for Fisher in Tennessee, end Chris Long and
Finnegan was the top free-agent pickup and is the shutdown guy
in the secondary while mentoring Jenkins. Long was among the top
pass rushers with 13 1/2 sacks and Laurinaitis has led the team in
tackles in all three of his seasons.
There are three former defensive coordinators on the staff to
share the duties of Gregg Williams, suspended indefinitely for his
role in the Saints bounty scandal. Fisher, among those in that
group, has consistently downplayed the importance of a go-to guy on
”Believe me, we will get it handled,” assistant head coach
Dave McGinnis said. ”Everybody is in tune. We’re going to call a
defense and make them punt – on your mark, get set, go.”
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and