(Eds: With AP Photos.)By R.B. FALLSTROMAP Sports Writer
Jeff Fisher took an offbeat approach for breaking the ice when St. Louis Rams veterans and rookies met for the first time.
Besides standing and reciting their names, schools, favorite movies, etc., during introductions, the new players were asked to recall the name of their first pet along with how it died. Fisher said several mentioned hamsters and turtles, while some remembered the family dog or cat getting squashed by trains or buses.
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”We had one whose parents just put him down that morning,” Fisher said Wednesday. ”You know, it was sad. No, it was good. Good introduction.”
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan recalled lighthearted goings on when he was a rookie playing for Fisher in Tennessee. There, he got saddled with the nickname Fido.
”It’s something coach Fisher always throws in there for giggles,” Finnegan said. ”I played the nickel and I would always run after the wrong guy.”
Rams rookies got hung with nicknames, too. Finnegan said one looked like Greg Oden, and another resembled Gonzo, the Muppet.
There are limits to the frivolity. Players won’t be asked to sing and Fisher went out of his way to emphasize there will be no hazing, no rookies taped to goal posts or the like.
”They’re here to help us win,” he said after the team completed a second day of organized team activities.
There is fresh optimism surrounding a franchise that’s a sorry 15-65 the last five years. Defensive end Chris Long, the second overall pick of the 2008 draft, is playing for his fourth coach entering his fifth season and can’t recall a vibe quite like this.
”There’s been a lot of changes since I’ve been here. This is by far the one I’m most excited about,” Long said. ”I think we’re all very excited about it. It’s a new beginning for a lot of people and, in the same sense, you have to re-prove yourself.”
Fisher does not seem worried about all those lean seasons in the recent past.
”We’ve completely forgotten about last year,” the coach said. ”This is a team that’s going out there to win, period. There’s players that are emerging that were here. There’s players that are improving. We’ve got an influx of talent through free agency and the draft and we’re going to play hard and win games.”
Fisher said much of the base offense and defense have been installed. The Rams worked on situational play and the red zone Wednesday and might delve into the two-minute offense on Friday.
A handful of rookies have been unable to attend. Running back Isaiah Pead, a second-round draft pick, was among four who attend schools on the quarter system and can’t participate until the end of exams. Plus, Pead and two wide receivers who could get plugged into the offense immediately, second-rounder Brian Quick and fourth-rounder Chris Givens, are attending an NFL rookie premiere event in California.
”It’s mandated by the league that they come out there, so unfortunately they’re missing some quality work,” Fisher said. ”It’s a photo thing, and (trading) cards and those kinds of things. Really great timing.”
The Rams added a pair of veterans for depth, signing free agent linebacker Mario Haggan and offensive tackle Barry Richardson, and both were on the field Wednesday. Richardson started every game the last two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and the 32-year-old Haggan also has been strong on special teams.