- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp.
The Rams were finally able to put the pads on Monday morning and did so for a special teams workout before the full squad puts them on this week. Coach Jeff Fisher prefers to get his players acclimated to wearing pads in a special teams workout before throwing them into the mix of a real practice. It has been common practice in the previous two seasons as well.
Believe it or not, special teams practices are pretty entertaining, at least near the end. In what has become a rite of passage for young players trying to make the roster, there are two full-contact drills that really promote competition. In a fairly basic punt cover drill, a gunner lines up on either side of the line with two players in front of him. When the ball is punted or shot out of the JUGS machine, the gunner's task is to beat the double team and get down the field as fast as possible. It is no surprise that linebackers Ray-Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates took the first rep in contact drills Monday. Special teams coach John Fassel wants that duo to take on more of a leadership role this season, and they helped set the tone by jumping into the first rep. The other notable moment from that work was defensive back Lamarcus Joyner taking on Miami natives Stedman Bailey and Brandon McGee. Joyner referred to Bailey and McGee as the Miami Heat, but acquitted himself well by battling tooth and nail. That was enough to draw Fassel's praise. Fassel has been impressed with Joyner so far and said the rookie embodies what he is looking for in a special teams player.
The other notable drill, the main event so to speak, is the one-on-ones that close the practice. The premise is simple: there is a blue tackling dummy set up and two players line up side by side. At the whistle, one player is responsible for getting to the bag and knocking it over while the other's job is to block the pursuer. It's the drill where Bates made his name in 2013 and opened eyes to the prospect of his making the roster. This time, Bates didn't participate, perhaps as a way of dialing him back a bit, but Armstrong was easy to find. Armstrong became tangled with linebacker Lawrence Wilson which set off a short exchange of shoves and words.
Michael Sam also drew praise from Fassel for his work, particularly as a blocker on kick and punt return. Fassel said Sam's weight loss has made a noticeable difference, and he is a bit faster when running down kicks. For now, Fassel envisions Sam contributing in the blocking role while he works on developing the long speed necessary to run down kicks.
Center Scott Wells isn't a part of the special teams, but he did do some work on the side with offensive line coaches Paul Boudreau and Andy Dickerson.