After a two-month break from all things football, the Rams re-convened at the Russell Training Center on Monday for the start of the offseason conditioning program under the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches Rock Gullickson and Chuck Faucette.
For head coach Steve Spagnuolo, having the players back in town signaled new beginnings.
“It’s now the 2010 St. Louis Rams and it really begins today,” Spagnuolo said.
Upon their arrival back in St. Louis for the start of the program, the assembled players were broken up into groups pending position and size. But before the dumb bells were touched, Spagnuolo took an opportunity to assemble his team and pass along an important message.
“Every day has got to be a new day, no matter what,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Coach Spags talks about erasing the past so that’s what we as players kind of have to do whether it was good or bad we have to erase it and go forward. Certainly we can reflect on some of the things we learned but as far as we are concerned we are 0-0 just like every other team.”
So it was that any memory of the 2009 season was officially wiped away by Spagnuolo and the Rams on Monday morning as they begin anew in preparation for the 2010 season.
For the better part of the past two and a half months, Rams players went their separate ways. Some went home to be with family and friends. Some took vacations and everyone recharged their battery for the first step toward next season.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis went on the “Buckeyes Cruise for Cancer,” an annual trip featuring prominent former Ohio State athletes, that raised more than $400,000 for the Stephanie Spielman cancer awareness fund.
Laurinaitis also got a new dog and spent most of his time working out in Columbus with former Ohio State teammates.
“I feel kind of useless if I’m not working out or doing something,” Laurinaitis said.
Receiver Donnie Avery went home to his family and friends in Houston. After taking about a week to clear his mind and rest his body, he set about the task of getting himself into prime shape for what he hopes will be a breakout third season.
Avery spent his time working out with fellow NFLers such as Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers in the Houston area with the goal of adding weight to his frame.
In 2009, Avery played at about 184 pounds but says he gave up eating red meat, added more vitamins and chicken to his diet and gained about 14 pounds with an eye toward becoming a more durable player.
“Coach told me he wanted me to come back healthier and stronger and heavier,” Avery said. “I think I’m getting bigger, eating healthier and working harder in the weight room and it should help get rid of some of those injuries I’ve had.”
That’s just a small sample of what the Rams have been doing on their individual breaks but the days of working out on their own have now passed.
For the next 14 weeks, these players will be attacking the offseason with a few goals in mind.
There are, of course, plenty of tangible benefits such as the basics of getting bigger, stronger and faster on the football field. But perhaps there is no benefit greater than the intangible one that goes with the team building that can happen during the offseason.
From the time of his arrival in St. Louis, Spagnuolo has emphasized the virtues of building chemistry in the locker room. That doesn’t happen overnight and it starts on days like Monday.
“I think the tightest bonds are formed in the offseason program without the pressures of winning and losing, without the pressure of another game coming up,” Spagnuolo said. “There’s a lot more time they can spend with each other outside of football which I think is good.”
A typical day in the offseason program isn’t nearly as strenuous as a regular season day. Players report to the Russell Training Center and spend about four hours at the facility each day.
In that time, they are allowed only a certain amount of time with the coaches where they can work on football-related things. That includes watching film, getting a refresher on the playbook or even getting a feel for some of the new things that are being added in 2010.
When that part is done, the focus shifts to Gullickson and Faucette, who have tailored workouts to each player with an eye toward maximizing their performance on the field.
“Rock wants us to be like him when we grow up,” Avery said, laughing. “He’s a typical strength coach but he goes over and beyond to make sure you are at your peak so you can perform. He has a couple of new things this year to try to get the best of our abilities.”
Gullickson and Faucette work hard to ensure there are new and different aspects to the workouts to help keep the players’ interest and keep up with trends in the field. That also includes working with new head athletic trainer Reggie Scott on rehabilitation methods so that everyone is on the same page.
Spagnuolo says that a good majority of the injured players from last season have already been cleared to participate in the program and the few that haven’t are well on their way in rehabilitation.
“There’s only a few of them that are not at the rehab standpoint where they can be transitioned right into the actual strength program,” Spagnuolo said. “But for the most part, they will do whatever they can.”
From a coaching perspective, it’s just nice to have the players back in the building.
“Getting up this morning was a little bit easier,” Spagnuolo said. “I am ready to get up every morning when the alarm goes off anyway but I had the Christmas Day feel to see all those faces again. I like it when the players are around. That’s when you feel like a football team. There is no team without the players. They need their time away but it’s great to have them around.”
In the next three months or so, the Rams will gradually increase the workload. After the draft, the team will have a rookie minicamp at the end of April with organized team activities set to begin in May.
There will be a full squad minicamp in June with OTAs wrapping up the offseason program around the middle of that month.
Between now and then, plenty will happen as new faces are added to the mix and new ideas kicked around by the coaches. But the process of becoming a better team has only just begun.
“I think you’re anxious, excited to get going,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s exciting to see what these guys are going to do. I think we have a lot of good players on our team and I think that we are a young squad overall so the most important thing for us is that the young guys we have get better. That’s the thing. Each individual has to make himself that much better. It’s fun to be back in a team setting working with them, challenging and competing. That’s what it’s all about.”