- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For those watching the opening days of St. Louis Rams training camp, there was little doubt which side of the ball was controlling the action.
Not that it's strange to see a Rams' defense ahead of its offense. Even if the offense improves in 2014, most are expecting this Gregg Williams-led defense to be at the center of any success the team enjoys.
But the first few practices, the ones in which the Rams had no shoulder pads on, a piecemeal offensive line working together for the first time and a quarterback returning from a knee injury, would have been declared no contest by any judge in the country. It was all defense, all the time.
On the rare occasions when quarterback Sam Bradford even got a pass off, he had so many bodies near him that he couldn't get much on it.
Now that the pads are on, though, the offense is starting to show signs of life. In the two practices since the team put shoulder pads on, things have evened out a bit for the offensive line and Bradford has been doing something he hasn't done much of in his first four seasons: regularly taking shots and connecting on the deep ball. Whether it's Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook or someone else, the Rams are actually getting some big plays.
Asked what has excited him the most in the opening week of training camp, coach Jeff Fisher didn't hesitate to note the offense's recent progress.
"We're getting a lot more explosive plays," Fisher said. "Sam is throwing the ball real well. The ball is going down the field on time to Kenny and Quick and Tavon and Cookie and all the guys. But that's been the thing that's been most impressive."
The rough offensive start is pretty common procedure around the league as offenses generally tend to be behind the defense in the opening days. For an offensive line, it's more difficult to block without pads on because there's nothing for them to "catch" when they set in pass protection.
"Before you put the shoulder pads on, there's a lot of congestion in the pocket, but now the pocket is starting to clean itself up because the offense has pads on and things are starting to even out a little bit so we are getting time to make those throws," Fisher said.
Of course, the flip side to any evaluation of on-field play during training camp is that everybody plays for the same team. So if the Rams' offense, particularly the receivers, is having success converting on the deep ball then that means somebody on the defense is on the wrong side of the play. With Trumaine Johnson just returning from what he calls a "tweak" that kept him out of a few practices, the Rams have been mixing and matching with their outside cornerbacks.
Corners Janoris Jenkins and Brandon McGee have had their share of struggles on the outside and the sight of Britt and Quick getting behind the secondary for big plays has become a relatively common occurrence in team drills.
Still, it's a good thing for the offense to get something going after early struggles. The defense is a group that isn't lacking for confidence and looks right on pace to be what Williams and Fisher have designed it to be. The offense can use any boost it can get as it looks to put its many moving pieces together.
The hope for the offense is that the challenge of facing the top defense every day in practice will make things easier when the real games start.
"I think our defense is going to be extremely good this year," Bradford said. "I think they're even more talented this year than they were last year. I think going against that group every day is going to make us as an offense better. There's nothing easy against those guys, especially up front. That front seven is really, really tough. I think it's a great challenge for us to come out and go against them every day and just try to push ourselves to get better and go out and beat them."
8hEric D. Williams