NFL TEAM REPORTS Copyright (C) 2015 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved. Reprints, duplication or redistribution is prohibited without written permission from The Sports Xchange. ============== ST. LOUIS RAMS ============== INSIDE SLANT RB Gurley fits Fisher’s personality St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher loves running backs. When his Tennessee Titans advanced to the Super Bowl in […]
ST. LOUIS RAMS
RB Gurley fits Fisher’s personality
St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher loves running backs. When his Tennessee Titans advanced to the Super Bowl in 1999, it was with Eddie George, the 14th overall choice in the 1996 draft. In eight seasons with Houston and Tennessee, George rushed for 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns.
After George, it was Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards for Fisher in 2009.
Thus, it really wasn’t that much of a surprise when the Rams gambled heavily Thursday night, selecting Georgia running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall choice in the draft. It surely fits Fisher’s philosophy.
While Fisher didn’t want to compare Gurley to George, who rushed for 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns in eight seasons with Houston and Tennessee, he did say of Gurley, “He’s special, but they’re different. They have different running styles. But when the career is all said and done, he can be that guy.”
George also believes that. He texted Fisher after the pick, writing, “Congratulations. Great pick.”
Gurley becomes the seventh running back on the Rams’ roster and marks the fourth consecutive year the Rams have selected a runner in the draft: Isaiah Pead in the second round in 2012, Zac Stacy in the fifth round in 2013 and Tre Mason in the third round last year.
Taking the immensely talented Gurley is a risk because he is rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ Nov. 15 game against Auburn. That game was his first one after returning from a four-game suspension for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia.
The Rams were present at Gurley’s medical recheck on April 18 at Indianapolis, and Fisher said, “His rehab is coming along fine. We don’t know when he’s gonna be on the field competitively, but we do know he’s not having any issues right now and the docs say he’s ahead of schedule.”
Gurley, who said he was surprised to be selected by the Rams and didn’t visit the team in recent weeks, also echoed Fisher’s sentiment, saying, “There is no timetable. I know I have a lot of work to do. But opening day is a realistic goal.”
Said Fisher, when asked if Gurley could be playing at the beginning of the regular season, “There’s always that possibility, but we’re not going to be specific as to when. I will tell you this: we’re not going to rush it. We may be a little on the conservative side. This is our running back of the future, so it makes no sense to subject him, to put him in a bad situation sooner than we have to. We’ve got outstanding backs on our roster and he’s going to add to that group. When that happens we don’t know, but he’s going to be the running back of the future for a number of years.”
Still, there was significant discussion among the Rams’ hierarchy about the wisdom of adding another player with a torn ACL history, especially considering the injuries suffered in successive years by quarterback Sam Bradford and tackle Jake Long. Both are no longer Rams. Pead missed the 2014 season, also with a torn ACL.
But, they believed it was worth the risk to acquire a talent like Gurley. Fisher admitted the ACL issues have “been a concern of ours. But every situation is different. We don’t have reservations about him getting back to full speed and 100 percent. That’s not going to be an issue with him.”
Snead said the Rams only had a chance at Gurley because of the injury. “It was a bonus to be sitting there at 10 and get him,” Snead said. “It was a consensus that he’s a player that helps everybody: our defense, he helps our offense, our offensive line, our receivers, our quarterback. That’s the pick in a nutshell.”
Added Fisher, “A talent like him comes along once in a great while. His body of work speaks for itself. The athletic ability, the strength, the explosion, the acceleration, the instincts he has as a runner. He also has great hands out of the backfield. He’s that complete back. We have a good group; we really like our group in the room, but this is an opportunity that we could not pass up.”
Last season, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gurley rushed for 911 yards on 123 attempts (7.4 per rush) and nine touchdowns in just six games. In his Georgia career, he totaled 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
The pick of Gurley came after the Washington Redskins selected Iowa tackle/guard Brandon Scherff fifth overall and the New York Giants picked Miami tackle Ereck Flowers one choice in front of the Rams. Three picks after the Rams, the New Orleans Saints chose Stanford tackle Andrus Peat.
Conventional wisdom had the Rams selecting a lineman in the first round, but Fisher went against the grain. That prompted an obvious question to Fisher and Snead: “Who’s going to block for him?”
To which Snead said, “They did make this thing a three-day event. We have to live through Friday and Saturday, so we’ll see if we can help improve that position there. We’ll still let the board guide us, but … we’re well aware.”
–After selecting running back Todd Gurley in the first round of the draft, the Rams’ game plan entering Day 2 was to upgrade their offensive line and add a quarterback. They were able to do that with the choice of two offensive linemen and quarterback Sean Mannion thanks to a trade with Carolina that provided them with an extra third-round pick.
The Rams moved from 41 to 57 in the third round, and were confident doing that because, as head coach Jeff Fisher said, “At that point, our group (of targets) was large. It was good. We felt like we had a chance just to trade out. Really looking at the group, we also thought the three was probably a little more important than a four and a five.”
Trade talks were occurring with as many as five teams, but a lesser move down would have yielded just a fourth- or fifth-round choice. By making the deal with the Panthers, the Rams received not only the third-round choice, but also one in the sixth round.
They added tackles Rob Havenstein with the second-round pick and Jamon Brown with the first third-rounder, but Brown is likely headed for right guard. Havenstein will compete for a starting job at right tackle.
“He is ready to play,” general manager Les Snead said of Havenstein. “(He) started a ton of games – never missed any. They run the ball well up there. He’s just a guy that knows his strengths and weaknesses and how to use them.”
Describing Havenstein and Brown, Fisher said, “We’ve got two big, strong, physical players that extend plays, that finish plays, that go downfield. They’re mauler-type. They’re very, very aggressive, so they’re going to fit our style.
“We’re building this team for the future and I think we’re establishing an identity right now.”
The Rams then followed up on the third day by picking Iowa tackle Andrew Donnal in the fourth round and Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann in the sixth round.
Donnal is yet another Rams pick that suffered a torn ACL although his was during the 2012 season. He had played in the first four games of the season and then became a starter at right guard. Early in that third start, he tore the ACL, but was able to come back to play in the season opener the next season. He didn’t start at all in 2013, but played at both guard and tackle.
Last season, he started all 13 games at right tackle, and rarely missed a snap.
Donnal also fits what the Rams were looking for in their linemen. After being asked to describe himself, he said, “I view myself as a blue-collar grinder. I’m a guy that’s going to come out and work my ass off every day to be the best that I can possibly be. I thoroughly enjoy juts playing football, being an offensive lineman and moving the guy from point A to point B against his will. Protecting the quarterback and mauling inside. There’s nothing better.”
As Fisher said of the draft haul, “It’s been a long time coming, particularly because of the needs. After Todd, our focus went to the big guys. All of them finish; that’s the thing we really like. They’re downfield, they’re pushing people over piles, they’re aggressive and they’re finishing. As Les (general manager Les Snead) said about Cody, ‘If you’re somewhere in the vicinity, he’s gonna hit you.’ There’s some contact involved, and that’s the mindset that we need to carry forward. But it’s also not something that we have to teach; it’s the way they play right now.”
When it was suggested that the Rams made as many choices as they did on the line hoping that some work out, Fisher took exception to that notion.
“We didn’t throw darts now,” he said. “We think these guys can play. Now, we’ll have a much better idea once we get them in here, but we feel they all can come in and contribute. They are durable, they’re smart, they’re well-coached and they’re going to fit in.
“We’re building this team for the future and I think we’re establishing an identity right now.”
Despite the selection of four offensive linemen among their nine picks, Fisher said they remain interested in re-signing unrestricted free agent right tackle Joe Barksdale, their starter last year who thought his value in the market was much higher than reality.
–Mannion ended up being the fourth quarterback selected in the draft after Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Garrett Grayson. He was one of several quarterbacks the Rams worked out in the week before the draft, and Snead said that private session was “what solidified him for us.”
Fisher cited Mannion’s “understanding of terminology, of defenses, decision-making. We sent some information, let him study the night before. We talked about it the next day and he had it down. He’s exceptionally smart. Again, I think the thing that I was most impressed with was his ability to make every throw; the different touches, the deep balls, the shorter throws and then the footwork. I thought his footwork in the pocket and getting out of the pocket was much better than I saw on tape. He had a great Pro Day and he had a great workout for us.”
Draft analysts said Mannion’s weakness was his slow feet and delivery. Mannion knew it and worked on those things with quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer, the brother of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
Mannion said, “I know one thing that I really tried to focus on after the end of my season was really sharpening up my footwork and really cleaning that stuff up and I felt like I was able to kind of show that at the Senior Bowl and at the combine and at my Pro Day. A lot of it was really positive feedback about how they’d seen I made improvements in those areas.”
Asked if improving his footwork helped speeding up his release, Mannion said, “I definitely think so. I think footwork is something that can help a lot of areas of your game. Obviously, quickening my release is something that I had been wanting to do. I think focusing on my footwork and always throwing from the same base in the pocket can really speed up my delivery and get the ball out very fast.”
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Rams’ nine picks:
–Round 1/10 – Todd Gurley, RB, 6-1, 222, Georgia
The Rams believe he is a transcendent back that will help make their entire team better. The only question in the short term is when he will be available to play as he recovers from a torn ACL. Gurley’s explosiveness and big-play ability will go a long way toward improving the Rams’ offense.
–Round 2/57 – Rob Havenstein, T, 6-7, 321, Wisconsin
Tied a school record with 54 games played, starting 42 and the final 41 at right tackle over the last three seasons. He helped lead the way for three 1,000-yard rushers: Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and James White, three of the top five rushers in Wisconsin history. Projects to be a right tackle for the Rams.
–Round 3/72 – Jamon Brown, G/T, 6-4, 323, Louisville
Started 39 games over the last three seasons, playing right tackle in 2012 and left tackle the last two years. Brown went to Louisville as a defensive lineman, but made the switch to the offensive line during his freshman season. He started one game at guard that season. Expect to begin his Rams career as a guard.
–Round 3/89 – Sean Mannion, QB, 6-6, 229, Oregon State
The Pac-12’s all-time leading passer, Mannion has excellent size and football smarts. He worked hard during pre-draft workouts to improve his footwork and delivery, so it will be important to see if he reverts to bad habits.
–Round 4/119 – Andrew Donnal, T, 6-6, 313, Iowa
A 2012 torn ACL just when he became a starter as a sophomore sabotaged his 2013 season and kept him from becoming a fulltime starter until last year when he started all 13 games at right tackle. A self-described “blue-collar grinder,” Donnal added, “I thoroughly enjoy just playing football, being an offensive lineman and moving the guy from point A to point B against his will. Protecting the quarterback and mauling inside; there’s nothing better.”
–Round 6/201 – Bud Sasser, WR, 6-2, 210, Missouri
A very productive receiver that doesn’t have great speed, but runs good routes and is able to go up and get the ball. Showed that he is a willing blocker.
–Round 6/215 – Cody Wichmann, G, 6-6, 315, Fresno State
Another lineman that plays hard all the time and was called a “self-made guy” by general manager Les Snead. He started 50 games in college, and as head coach Jeff Fisher said, “If someone is in the vicinity, he’s going to hit them.”
–Round 7/224 – Bryce Hager, LB, 6-1, 234, Baylor
Hager’s father Britt played nine seasons in the NFL, including his final year in 1997 with the Rams. Head coach Jeff Fisher was Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator in 1989 when he was selected by the Eagles in the third round of the draft. Hager played six seasons for the Eagles and his next two with Denver. Fisher said Bryce is similar to his father in being a “sideline-to sideline” player that plays fast and urgent. Led Baylor last season with 114 tackles in 13 games.
–Round 7/227 – Martin Ifedi, DE, 6-3, 275, Memphis
Ended his college career as the school’s all-time leader with 22.5 sacks and also compiled 36 tackles for loss. That sacks total ranked sixth among active NCAA FBS players. A sprained MCL cost him four games at the beginning of the 2014 season, but still had 9.5 sacks in nine games played. Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle is said to be high on him and likes his upside.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–T Joe Barksdale has been durable and solid manning the right side of the offensive line. The Rams want him back, and is still available after not getting the money he expected.
–DT Alex Carrington was part of the rotation last season. He can be competitive, but the Rams won’t go very high to re-sign him.
–LB Will Herring contributed on special teams and was one of the older players on the roster. Head coach Jeff Fisher values special teams, so he might return on a minimum deal.
–G Davin Joseph was up and down during the 2014 season, but was better than anyone else the Rams had. He is not expected to be re-signed.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
–C Tim Barnes: Not tendered as RFA; $710,017/1 yr, $50,017 RB.
–WR Kenny Britt: $9.15M/2 yrs, $2.55M guaranteed.
–QB Austin Davis: RFA tendered at $1.542M with no compensation; $1.542M/1 yr.
–TE Cory Harkey: RFA tendered at $1.542M with no compensation; $1.542M/1 yr.
–TE Lance Kendricks: UFA; $18.5M/4 yrs, $10M guaranteed/$4M RB 2015/$1.25M RB 2016.
–S Rodney McLeod: RFA tendered at $2.356M with second-round pick as compensation); $2.365M/1 yr.
–RB Chase Reynolds: ERFA; $585,000/1 yr.
–G Brandon Washington: ERFA; $585,000/1 yr.
–LB Akeem Ayers: UFA Patriots; $6M/2 yrs, $2.75M guaranteed.
–DT Nick Fairley: UFA Lions; $5M/1 yr; $1.5M guaranteed.
–QB Nick Foles (trade Eagles).
–QB Case Keenum (trade Texans).
–T/G Garrett Reynolds: UFA Lions; $2.2M/2 yrs, $249,999 RB guaranteed.
–QB Sam Bradford (traded Eagles).
–QB Shaun Hill: UFA Vikings; $6.5M/2 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
–DT Kendall Langford (released).
–T Jake Long (released/failed physical).
–T/G Mike Person: UFA Falcons; $3.35M/3 yrs, $500,000 SB.
–RB Zac Stacy (traded Jets).
–C Scott Wells (released).