Rams focus on hopefuls instead of draft picks
Saturday, May 11, 2013
ST. LOUIS — Jeff Fisher already knows what wide receiver Tavon Austin and the rest of the St. Louis draft picks can do.
He saw them at the combine, at their pro days and at private workouts. So seeing them on the practice field for the first time was no big deal.
“I’ve seen him do a lot more in the workouts than he did today,” Fisher said Friday. “Nothing surprises me about him.”
At this weekend’s rookie minicamp, with practices Friday and today along with off-field sessions, the focus is on a larger than usual class of undrafted free agents and more than two dozen hopefuls in for a two-day tryout. Among the undrafted free agents is linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, on the rebound after getting kicked off the team at Miami before last season in the scandal over gifts from a former booster.
“I’m excited right now, just to try to come out here and prove myself and try to become a Ram,” Armstrong said. “Whatever happened in the past, I put that behind me and I’m focusing on now.
“This is an opportunity and a dream come true for anybody. I’m looking forward to maximizing my opportunity.”
During his layoff Armstrong attended Faulkner University, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Ala. He practiced with the team and also helped out coaching special teams on game days.
“I’d say I know the game, that’s something I pride myself on,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been playing football my whole life.”
The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Armstrong, who also was suspended for much of his junior year, was a safety in college. He said he hadn’t been too nervous getting back on the field after the long layoff and summed up the first day as a “lot of fun.”
“He’s been off for a while and he’s in good shape,” Fisher said. “He got caught up in a difficult situation and he’s happy for the opportunity.”
Armstrong said he didn’t know Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith, also implicated in the Miami scandal, and had little to say about the ongoing investigation.
“I mean, that situation, it is what it is and that’s in the past,” Armstrong said. “I’m focusing on being a Ram now.”
Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake, son of former NFL quarterback James Blake, is among the undrafted free agents. Four of the tryout players, who were not made available to media, are from Division II Henderson State.
“It’s just familiarizing who’s who,” Fisher said. “Just looking at guys that can move around with balance and ability and pick things up. There’ll be some guys off this tryout group that will at least make the training camp roster.”
Fisher, retooling the NFL’s youngest roster after a six-win improvement to 7-8-1 in his first year, pretended not to notice a light drizzle that made footing somewhat uncertain on grass practice fields. Players didn’t seem to mind, either.
“Definitely a little wet and I ain’t used to playing on the grass,” Austin said. “But eventually I’ll get the hang of it.”
Wide receiver Stedman Bailey, who like Austin is coming off a 100-plus catch year at West Virginia, can’t wear No. 3 in the NFL so he chose jersey No. 12 in tribute to another teammate. Quarterback Geno Smith wore that number at West Virginia, but had to switch to No. 7 with the Jets because Joe Namath’s No. 12 is retired.
“I see he wasn’t able to pick that up over in New York,” Bailey said. “So I told him I’d hold it down for him.”
The Rams traded up to get the 5-9, 174-pound Austin with the eighth overall pick of the draft. Austin said it felt “pretty much like my next home,” when he arrived at the team complex Thursday.
Austin and Bailey are safe and sound, but might benefit from a little push with four more wide receivers at camp.
“I don’t ever underestimate anybody,” Austin said. “I come out here with the same attitude as if I was playing the vets.”
Austin said he and Bailey are good friends but there was no chance they’d be living together.
“He’s going to have his home and I’m going to have mine,” Austin said. “I didn’t live with him in college, so I’m not living with him in the league right now.”
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