NFC West: Cameron Graham

Rams Tuesday practice report

August, 20, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. – In what has been a shockingly mild summer, the target for what constitutes a hot day in St. Louis has shifted dramatically.

In a normal St. Louis training camp, August temperatures generally hover in the 100-degree range with unbearable humidity. Perhaps it’s Mother Nature’s way of making it up to the city for the numerous dangerous storms that rolled through in the spring, but whatever the reason, the Rams have enjoyed a training camp severely lacking in oppressive heat.

So when the Rams put the pads on and temperatures rose to the upper 80s Tuesday afternoon, the feisty attitudes that normally have long since boiled over began to spill out on the practice field.

The result was the most “spirited” practice of this training camp, with multiple scuffles breaking out.

“Occasionally in camp those things happen,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s kind of one of those deals. I think most of you at some point said, ‘Gosh, this is amazing weather for training camp.’ But today it got a little warm and they had pads on and that’s what happened. That’s good. We need to work through that.”

The most notable scrum happened early in team drills when linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and tight end Jared Cook got tangled up. Dunbar didn’t take kindly to being knocked down and defensive end Chris Long swooped in to help his teammate.

Cook’s helmet popped off but the group was quickly separated.

There were a few other scuffles throughout practice, too, including a mix-up when linebacker Daren Bates appeared to hit running back Benny Cunningham a bit late and tackle Joe Barksdale jumped in to protect his running back.

Fisher doesn’t mind when his team shows that passion so long as it doesn’t go too far and, considering that the weather hasn’t allowed for some of the chippiness that usually accompanies camp, he said he was OK with what took place Tuesday.

“You don’t want anybody to get hurt and all that kind of stuff,” Fisher said. “They jumped in there and they have more fun pulling it apart than they do mixing it up and that’s fine. We have just got to focus on the football.”

More Tuesday practice notes
  • Right tackle Rodger Saffold made some progress toward a return from his dislocated left shoulder. He participated in individual drills but isn’t yet ready to jump into team work.
  • Rookie safety T.J. McDonald did get back to work after sitting Monday because of a knee ailment. He was back with the first group for some but not all of team drills. He did come up with an interception near the goal line in 7-on-7s.
  • Fellow safety Darian Stewart did not practice again because of a hamstring injury. Rodney McLeod again replaced him with the first defense.
  • Receiver Austin Pettis had his second strong day in a row. He made a difficult one-handed grab with just his left hand over cornerback Cortland Finnegan in the corner of the end zone during one on ones.
  • Rookie wideout Tavon Austin and end Eugene Sims did not practice again Tuesday. Both have been excused to tend to personal matters.
  • The Rams officially released backup tight end Cameron Graham.
  • Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen was shaken up late in practice when he collided awkwardly with Bates. He walked it off and Fisher indicated he’d be OK.
We've got much to discuss as our NFC West predraft positional rankings continue with input from Matt Williamson, resident scout for

Tight ends are up next, followed later Wednesday by the offensive lines.

Sando: Five current NFC West tight ends entered the NFL in the first three rounds of their draft classes. San Francisco's Vernon Davis, Seattle's Zach Miller and St. Louis' Jared Cook are playing under contracts featuring a combined $59 million in guaranteed money. Their deals are scheduled to consume $23.7 million in combined cap space for 2013. Still, I could see every team in the division except for the St. Louis Rams drafting one in the first few rounds.

Williamson: I'd be shocked if I moved San Francisco out of the No. 1 ranking, especially if the 49ers drafted one, which I expect them to do. Vernon Davis is clearly the best tight end in the division. Cook may end up being that some day, but I do not trust him yet.

Sando: The Cardinals were the only NFL team without a touchdown reception from a tight end last season. Bad quarterback play had quite a bit to do with that, of course.

Williamson: Arizona has to be fourth even though I think Rob Housler can become a player. Jeff King and Jim Dray are the backups there.

Sando: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has said he "loved" Housler coming out of college and thought about drafting him as a big receiver. Overall, however, he would prefer his tight ends to be multidimensional players -- guys who block and catch well. Davis and Miller fit that profile. Each had 12 receptions, including one for a touchdown, during the playoffs last season. Both will enter the upcoming season more familiar with their young quarterbacks. But with John Carlson leaving Seattle one year ago and Delanie Walker leaving San Francisco this offseason, the Rams could now own the best one-two punch at the position heading into the draft.

Williamson: Miller came on strong. We could argue Cook versus Miller, but I give the Rams the edge over Seattle at tight end overall because Lance Kendricks is a decent backup who still has upside.

Sando: The Rams are obviously going to feature Cook in their receiving game. They gave him $19 million guaranteed while watching their more proven wideouts leave in free agency. Cook is going to serve as a wide receiver in some ways. Does that make Kendricks more of the traditional in-line tight end?

Williamson: Kendricks will never be a true inline 'Y' dealing with the Chris Clemonses of the world, but he can do that moreso than Cook. Cook is very much a receiver.

Sando: I can't argue with your tight end rankings too much, Matt. I'll be interested in seeing whether Miller picks up where he left off last season. This will be a position to revisit after the draft, too.

Got a question during the latest NFC West chat asking whether I envisioned the St. Louis Rams winning the NFC West in the next three years.

It's going to be a challenge given the projected state of quarterback play elsewhere in the division, but as I said during the chat, there's a good chance the Rams will break through in the next few seasons.

ESPN's Chris Sprow has written about this very subject at length. His latest piece for Insider Insider expands upon a subject we've discussed quite a bit lately: the impact cheap labor at quarterback can have on a team's ability to build a roster.

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are benefiting from having low-cost quarterbacks playing at a high level. The Rams are not benefiting from that dynamic, but their 2012 trade with the Washington Redskins will give them cheap labor for years to come -- all part of a plan to build with young talent.

The Rams have 17 total players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Those players average 24.5 years old (24.4 median). Backup tight end Matthew Mulligan, 28, is the only one age 26 or older.

"No team is bound to improve more over the next few seasons than the Rams," Sprow writes. "If Fisher is right, they'll get improvements from a deep 2012 rookie class in 2013, then a good 2013 rookie class in 2014, and another good 2014 rookie class in 2015."

Most of those players remain unproven and that can be scary for fans.

I sensed excitement, not trepidation, from the Rams' leadership during my interactions with coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff during the recently concluded NFL owners meeting. They are stocking the roster with young talent. We'll find out over the next couple seasons whether they've stocked wisely.