Spagnuolo has Rams on right track (cont.)
"There were a lot of people that were here that were on scholarship,'' Devaney said. "It just bothered me that we'd come in Monday mornings during the season, and it just seemed like the environment was, 'Oh, well. We lost, and it's another day at work. It doesn't affect me.' That's not acceptable. Everything we do, everything everybody does, the football team has to be the most important thing in this building. That's what drives this building. That's what we're here for. (Spagnuolo) wants them to feel a part of it, but at the same time, they have their jobs to do and we have ours. It's all about these 53 players.''
What Devaney is describing is what sometimes happens in the NFL when a losing organization allows the focus to drift away from the football part of the business, to other peripheral areas. That's exactly what happened in St. Louis in recent years, and dysfunction can result.
"Around here the past couple years, it was the most bizarre thing,'' Devaney said. "You'd walk through the locker room and there were people in there you had no idea who they were. It was just free rein, with marketing people taking sponsors, and people sitting and eating with the players. It was like, 'You got to be kidding.' It was so loose and out of control. There was no control. You didn't know who was walking the hallways. We had to tighten things up around here. We can't have it that way. It was totally chaotic.''
Rams veterans have noticed the sea change Spagnuolo has wrought. It hasn't translated into any wins yet, but it's only early August. Time will tell how much an improved atmosphere around Rams Park leads to an improved performance on game days.
"The operation's tightened up,'' Long said. "To win in the NFL, you need to have that atmosphere in everything you do. From the cafeteria to the players lounge, to taking down the pictures of individuals in the hallways. It's little stuff like that, but there are nuances to winning as a football team.''
Spagnuolo is under no illusions. He knows he's in his honeymoon period with the Rams, and all his changes within the team will be subject to a week-to-week referendum by his players, the fans and the media once the regular season begins. Anything in the range of five or six wins would represent a quantum improvement in St. Louis this season, and buy Spagnuolo's program both time and further political capital.
It's only the earliest of reads, but I like what I see of Spagnuolo's Rams. They're hungry, they're trying to remake themselves with a more physical style of play, and they're convinced they finally have a belief and philosophy in place they can win with. First impressions aren't always right, but in St. Louis, the worst is finally over.
Quick hits from Rams camp:
It's a tough early-season schedule for St. Louis, so a fast start might be out of the question. The Rams play four of their first six on the road, with Seattle and Washington the first two games, then San Francisco and Jacksonville around home games against Green Bay and Minnesota. Throw in a tough home game against Indy in Week 7, and the Rams won't be easing into the Spagnuolo era.
The team's 2008 first-round pick, defensive end Chris Long, looks quicker off the ball, and is part of a veteran Rams defensive end group (along with Leonard Little and James Hall) that has stood out early on.
"I came into the league understanding that things don't happen overnight,'' said Long, who had four sacks as a rookie but none in his final nine games of the season. "I kind of studied other D-ends, and saw the way their progression went. A lot of times you have a decent first year, but maybe not up to expectations. But if you work at it and come in ready to really handle your business and learn from your first year, you can really take that big jump in year two.''
Not surprisingly, first-round offensive tackle Jason Smith has looked stronger in run blocking than he has in pass blocking. Smith did not play with his hand down on the ground at Baylor, and the Rams concede he's a work in progress in a three-point stance. He has handled the inside pass rush, but struggled in defending against the edge rush. Smith is working mostly with the first team at right tackle, and gotten a few second and third-team reps at left tackle.
Hard to watch second-round linebacker James Laurinaitis and not see him as a natural who could start for the next 10 years in St. Louis. He just looks like a football player, and the Rams say he has already impressed team veterans with his passion for the game, his smarts, and his business-like approach to his play and the game.
I suppose a lot of teams could say the same thing, but there's a bit of a drop-off at quarterback after starter Mark Bulger. Veteran addition Kyle Boller has looked only so-so, and Brock Berlin and rookie Keith Null haven't turned any heads in the first week of camp.
Keep an eye on third receiver Laurent Robinson, who the Rams got in a low-profile draft weekend trade with Atlanta. He's had a strong camp so far and sources say he could rise as high as the team's No. 2 receiver behind leading pass-catcher Donnie Avery.
There's some building enthusiasm for the Rams here in St. Louis, witness they're up about 35 percent in camp attendance compared to last year, when they trained in Mequon, Wis. The sense among fans is that while St. Louis has a ways to go in its rebuilding project, the franchise is at least on the right track.
NFL Truth & Rumors