The fourth year of the Jeff Fisher era for the St. Louis Rams kicks off Friday with the opening of training camp and more than a little intrigue and uncertainty.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke has a stated desire — and a stadium plan — that would move the team back to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Rams are still in St. Louis and hoping to climb the NFC West ladder in 2015 in a division that includes Super Bowl runner-up Seattle.
“It’s interesting because I get what you’re saying,” Rams General Manager Les Snead said Thursday when asked about raised expectations in the fourth season with the current regime. “It’s year four of your tenure but you’re actually really jacked about it because you actually feel good about the foundation and where we’re going, it’s just it hasn’t occurred yet. We’ve got to go do that this year. We’re ready to go compete because you’ve got a coaching staff you are ready to go to battle with and players that have grown up and are ready to go to battle.”
Beginning with 3:30 p.m. Friday, several training camp practices at Rams Park in Earth City, Mo., are free and open to the public. Open practices also are set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit stlouisrams.com.
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Among the critical areas to watch during training camp is the performance of new starting quarterback Nick Foles. There’s also an offensive line that figures to have a new starting center and two rookies starting on the right side, the development of rookie running back Todd Gurley and evolution of a potentially strong receiving corps headed by Kenny Britt and Brian Quick.
While Fisher and Snead have done a lot of rebuilding, they started at the bottom with the Rams coming off a 15-65 stretch in the previous four seasons before their arrival.
“Your always trying to figure out, measure progress, right?” Snead said. “I’m not going to speak about it a ton because you’re tired of hearing about it. But you start in a pretty deep hole here. And there’s a lot of analytics based on who was on the ’11 roster and where they’re at now.
“But since ’12, we’re third in win-percentage improvement, only behind Denver and Seattle. It’s an interesting stat, we just started a lot of lower down the hill than they did. But it has shown some progress. And there’s some adversity. You didn’t plan on 25 straight (games) with your backup quarterback.
“You’ve gotta always overcome it. And in that time, the league usually wins about 26 percent of the games with a backup QB, we won 40 percent. And we’ve done all this with a young team.”
Snead knows there’s a long way to go before anyone starts mentioning “Rams” and “playoff contender” in the same sentence. However, he feels this is the most talented Fisher-coached team in St. Louis and believes the coaching staff can help ignite more improvement.
“I anticipate us contending for the (NFC) West (title),” Snead said. “I’m planning on it, expecting it, and not scared. But I like to say, all that is math. Those are numbers in a math equation that may analyze some progress and predict some future (success), but at the end of the day when the sun sets, what’s next?
“What now? That’s what we’ve got to do now is grow and go on a winning streak and things like that. We’re close. I can feel it.”
If nothing else, the Rams are used to dealing with adversity. There’s the threat of a franchise move to Los Angeles, the two ACL injuries to former first overall pick and former starting quarterback Sam Bradford and too many losses to count.
“When Sam had the second injury, I give the team credit for rallying with Austin (Davis) and Shaun (Hill), even Kellen (Clemens) in those days,” Snead said. “Because there were some big wins. Shaun Hill beating Peyton Manning. Austin Davis had some big wins, Kellen Clemens did, too.”
Rams Open Practice Schedule
at Rams Park, Earth City, Mo.
* 3:30 p.m. Friday
* 3:30 p.m. Saturday
* 5:30 p.m. Sunday
* 3:30 p.m. Aug. 4
* 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6
* 5 p.m. Aug. 7 (open scrimmage at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.)
* 3:30 p.m. Aug. 9
* 3:30 p.m. Aug. 10
* 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11