Fisher, Rams Rebuilding With Youth Movement
R.B. FALLSTROM,AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — There are 17 rookies on the St. Louis Rams’ opening day roster, seven more players age 24 or younger and 31 in all on the 53-man roster who were not with the franchise last season.
It’s the youngest team in the NFL, with an average age under 26. A lot of kids for new coach Jeff Fisher to corral.
Fisher and new general manager Les Snead are prepared to live with the mistakes. Fisher was at his wise-cracking best when the topic came up after practice Wednesday.
“Well, look, I’m going to cut the cartoons off at the hotel,” Fisher joked. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Have Froot Loops for the pre-game meal. How’s that?”
Beyond the one-liners, it’s clear the new regime has embraced an overhaul so extensive that the so-called crusty veteran has become an endangered species. There are just five players over the age of 30, compared with 13 for the season opener last year.
The 52-year-old Fisher was out of the NFL last year before tackling the task of transforming a franchise that was just 15-65 the previous five years — the worst five-year stretch for any franchise since the AFL-NFL merger. He has a five-year contract and can afford to build from the ground up.
“Well, it’s exciting. These guys are anxious and eager,” Fisher said. “I’d much rather coach a young team than an old team.”
All but one of the team’s 10 draft picks made the team. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and guard Rokevious Watkins are likely starters, kicker Greg Zuerlein won his job on draft day and defensive tackle Michael Brockers was set to start before sustaining what’s believed to be a high right ankle sprain in the preseason finale.
Wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens will be in the mix for quarterback Sam Bradford, the first pick of the 2010 draft and already an elder statesman. Bradford said he didn’t realize how many rookies were on the roster until Fisher spoke at a luncheon attended by the entire team earlier in the week.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, that seems extremely high,” Bradford said. “But looking around, I think we’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies in this locker room who are going to help us.
“We’re better because they’re here.”
Defensive end Chris Long, entering his fifth season and just 26, likes the injection of enthusiasm and optimism. He remembers feeling that way after the Rams drafted him second overall in 2008, not knowing he’d be a part of only 12 wins his first four seasons.
“One thing about being young is you’re not afraid of anything. You’re not afraid of losing,” Long said. “They haven’t been through the downs, so that’s kind of nice.
“We’re going into this thing fearlessly in Week 1.”
Entering his 17th season as an NFL head coach, Fisher said there’s no doubt that he’s never had a team so young.
“No … Not even close.”
Fisher insists he didn’t have to alter his coaching style to fit the personnel.
“Nothing changes. You take the same approach preparation-wise, you just have to maybe spend a little extra time with the younger guys to let them know what the regular season is all about,” Fisher said. “With 17 rookies on this roster, there’s a good chance that quite a few of them are going to be in this ballgame.”
Certainly, one big positive is there’s no element of greed. Just kids waiting for their shot.
“It’s been a beautiful thing,” said cornerback Cortland Finnegan, the team’s top free agent pickup who played for Fisher in Tennessee. “They’re great kids, coachable, coming along, made some plays from all aspects.”
When asked about playing time against the Lions, Quick speaks for all.
“Well, you know, whenever coach calls my number I’ve got to be ready,” Quick said. “We’ll see how that works. Who knows?”
He doesn’t want to be judged on a sliding scale, either.
“The window is down now, it’s time for us to grow up as rookies and make sure we do the right thing and study,” Quick said. “We had our time in camp and springtime to make mistakes.”
Last year’s opening-day roster included 36-year-old cornerback Al Harris and three 34-year-olds — backup quarterback A.J. Feeley, defensive end James Hall and defensive tackle Fred Robbins. Feeley, Hall and Robbins all were on the roster prior to the season finale of a dreary 2-14 season.
The elder statesman of the group that’s a touchdown underdog at Detroit is 32-year-old outside linebacker Mario Haggan, entering his 10th season. Perhaps it’s rubbed off from the kids he’s surrounded by, but Haggan can’t help but be optimistic.
“The day I signed on the dotted line, they sat me down and told me what I was going to be asked to do and what I bring to the team,” Haggan said. “They like what I bring. So, I was well prepared for the task and right now I’m enjoying myself. I see a lot of great things coming.”
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