Just two practices into the Rams’ 2013 fall training camp, and already players and coaches are recognizing a big difference in the team after one year in the McElwain system: they get it.
This year the veteran players understand what is expected of them, which helped lead to a “spirited” first practice said second-year head coach Jim McElwain during media day on Wednesday.
“We came back in a much better place,” he said. “What I mean by that is guys not as nervous, not as unknown; they came back and were able to just hit practice going.”
But that doesn’t mean the coach is ready to anoint anybody yet. Now is the time for competition.
“All great programs have competition at every position,” McElwain said last week during a pre-camp press conference. “We’re on our way right now to developing competition at literally all spots.”
As it tends to be in football, the quarterback position is among the most intriguing to those outside the team. On Wednesday coaches and players fielded plenty of questions about the vacant starting job.
McElwain said reps among the quarterbacks are being split “fairly evenly” right now. Both quarterbacks—junior Garrett Grayson and sophomore Conner Smith—need to work on the details of their game in order to be successful, he said.
“Those details might be as simple as my depth in the pistol has to be exactly this because everything’s measured off of that based on whatever play we’re running,” McElwain said. “Those little things that really kind of don’t get noticed sometimes.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said he was impressed with the way both quarterbacks threw the ball in the first practice. For Baldwin, three important factors in deciding who will be the starting quarterback are accuracy, completions and leadership—something he was impressed with on the first day of practice. Both quarterbacks were more vocal than they were a year ago.
“You can’t be a quiet quarterback,” Baldwin said.
Asked when he thinks they will appoint the starter Baldwin said he hopes to make that decision after the first scrimmage of fall camp which will take place on Tuesday. Until then, “it’s going to be a fun little race here,” he said.
Quarterbacks on competition
Last year McElwain named Garrett Grayson the starting quarterback at the end of fall camp, but he was forced to the sidelines after an injury and did not end the season as the starter. Grayson said this summer he has worked on being a more vocal leader, something that he admits was out of his comfort zone.
“I’ve never really been a vocal leader, I’ve always led by example,” Grayson said. “After my injury, that was something I needed to work on. I wasn’t really coming to practice, I wasn’t here like I should have been, which fell back on me; I feel like I kind of lost some respect from my teammates.”
He also said he thinks arm strength is the only area in which Conner Smith has him beat. Other than that, Grayson said both he and Smith are “both pretty equal.”
Smith said he feels he is ready to take the next step in his college playing career by competing for the starting job.
“Any competition is good competition; if I was scared of competition I wouldn’t be here,” Smith said.
As for being a vocal leader, Smith said he needs to come out of his shell this camp and show coaches that he can be that type of leader.
Competition on both sides of the ball
The offense is not the only side participating in position battles. Co-defensive coordinator Al Simmons said competition in the best thing a coach can have as it allows everybody to get better. The fight for a starting position in the secondary is one he is looking forward to.
“Make my job difficult to decide who’s going to play in a game,” Simmons said. “For me, I want that situation; I want it to be hard for me to decide who are those four or five guys that are going to go out as the starters on opening day.”
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.