ST. LOUIS -- The closest thing the St. Louis Rams had to a coach stood in the middle of the huddle, holding the closest thing the St. Louis Rams had to a playbook.
A white sheet of paper, held by second-year quarterback Sam Bradford, detailed the formations, assignments and terminology of the play in question. Bradford in turn relayed those details to the receivers and linemen who attended this week's players-only practices at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Bradford's training as a coach is limited. He also happens to be a novice in the offense he's attempting to teach, a scheme brought to the Gateway City by new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
|Sam Bradford is trying to help rookies adjust while learning Josh McDaniels' new offense. (Getty Images)|
"Sam's a good teacher and whatever he knows, we know and we know that it's accurate and good information," said Lance Kendricks, the rookie tight end from Wisconsin drafted in the second round of April's draft. "We can just take that in and use that as a starting point."
NFL players would normally be involved in organized team activities and minicamps this time of year, but the ongoing lockout has put those plans on hold. Veteran players around the league have been organizing informal team practices, the kind that Bradford's Rams scheduled this week at Lindenwood.
With about 30 players in attendance, the Rams held practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A scheduled session for Thursday was canceled because of inclement weather.
For his fellow holdovers on offense, Bradford helped the unit adjust from the "old numbering system to the new numbering system" of play calls. For Kendricks and rookie receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, the time with Bradford has been as much about schematic preparation as it's been a chemistry-building exercise.
Pettis, the team's third-round pick from Boise State, said getting a dose of the offense now means "everything won't be new to us" when the lockout is eventually lifted. "I'm able to learn a lot of stuff out here and just get as much knowledge as I can from Sam," said Pettis, a 6-foot-3 red-zone threat who caught 39 touchdown passes as a collegian.
Bradford told reporters on Monday that the rookie pass-catchers "hopped right in" without hesitation and looked good.
"We've gone over some things," the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner said. "I've tried to explain to them in as much detail as possible the formations, routes, alignments, things like that."
Meanwhile, Pettis, Kendricks and Salas have had plenty of time to pick Bradford's brain -- they've been staying at his house.
In addition to some private playbook study, Salas said Bradford has shown his house guests around St. Louis and treated them to dinner.
"It's been great," said Salas, the all-time University of Hawaii receiving leader. "He's a super-nice guy and has made it a lot easier coming in as a rookie. It's been a lot of learning, a lot of information to take in. We've got a lot to look forward to and a lot of things to study."
On the field at Lindenwood's Hunter Stadium, Salas said "it's all work" and the rookies have been absorbing a lot of the offense. Though the practices are undoubtedly different without coaches present, the youngsters have been seen asking plenty of questions of Bradford and all of the veterans present, including linebacker James Laurinaitis.
"It's important because rookies in this situation are the ones who are going to suffer," said Laurinaitis, who helped organize the practices along with Bradford and cornerback Ron Bartell. "They don't have the time to make those mistakes during OTAs and minicamps that I remember making. It's important for them, not to only get around everybody and introduced and learn the faces of your teammates, but also to get some more experience with everything. So it's good to get them here to learn and get their timing down with Sam."
The work Bradford and Laurinaitis do in mentoring their young teammates could go a long way toward determining the Rams' fate in 2011. The team jumped from one win to seven last season, nearly won the NFC West, and figure to be a trendy playoff pick this season. That said, a more difficult schedule that includes both Super Bowl XLV participants means it's no guarantee the win total will again increase.
"Last year was a good stepping stone, but you're not going to get more wins exponentially," Laurinaitis said. "It's year-by-year and what we did last year doesn't mean anything. I don't think there's any clear leader in the NFC West -- it's wide open. We've just got to make ourselves better and be prepared to go full-speed when (the lockout) is over."
Laurinaitis believes general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo have already made the team better through the draft. Rookie cornerback Mikail Baker of Baylor and Oklahoma safety Jonathan Nelson also attended the Lindenwood workouts.
"Billy and Spags want to pick guys who love to play football," Laurinaitis said. "It's the sense I get from these guys out here. These guys love to play football and that creates competition and makes everybody on the team better."
While Devaney and Spagnuolo await a time when they're allowed to do some more tinkering with the team, the Rams have another session of informal workouts scheduled to begin June 8 in Phoenix. Depending on the ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on June 3, Laurinaitis said the players would love to cancel the Phoenix practices.
"We have a plan just in case," Laurinaitis said. "We don't know how long they'll take to rule on this thing, but we have to plan accordingly."