When the Rams hit the practice field at 3:30 p.m. today for the start of training camp, quarterback Sam Bradford will be “full-go” according to coach Jeff Fisher.
“Sam is in great shape,” Fisher said. “He’s ready to go. We don’t have (reservations) — right now as we speak, as camp starts — he’s full-go. If we need to back him down here and there, we’ll back him down.”
Fisher dropped a pretty good hint that Bradford may not play in the preseason opener two weeks from today against visiting New Orleans. But if Bradford doesn’t play versus the Saints, Fisher said it won’t be injury-related.
“If he doesn’t play in the first preseason game, it’s not because he can’t,” Fisher said. “It’ll be (because) it’s our choice not to play him. But he will play in the preseason.”
Fisher noted that Bradford once again brought the team’s receivers to Oklahoma during the summer break to work with him. And that’s a pretty clear sign that his season-ending knee injury last October and subsequent surgery no longer is an issue.
A more measured approach will be taken with offensive tackle Jake Long, whose knee surgery took place later in the offseason than Bradford’s.
“Jake is right on course right now,” Fisher said. “I think if we’re smart, he’ll be limited to start camp. He’ll participate in individual (drills) and do some stuff. And we’ll just start building the reps and building him into practice.”
Otherwise, it’s a pretty clean slate injury-wise as the Rams begin their 20th training camp since the move to St. Louis.
“We have a couple things just lingering,” Fisher said. “Will Hayes had three offseason surgeries. Will is ahead of schedule, probably shooting for Week 2 or 3 in the preseason in having him play. So we’ll monitor his reps. But he’s doing fine.”
Hayes is the Rams’ third defensive end and one of the team’s emotional leaders. Meanwhile, second-year defensive end Sammy Brown is probably a week away from practicing because of a calf issue. But that’s it, providing there are no surprises that come out of conditioning tests.
• CHAT: JEFF GORDON LIVE AT 11 AM
• VIDEO: BRADFORD'S MAKE-OR-BREAK SEASON?
• SLIDESHOW: 10 QUESTIONS AS THE RAMS OPEN CAMP
Fisher enters his third season in St. Louis with a sense of optimism even though the Rams could start the season as the NFL’s youngest team for the third year in a row.
“We have a good feel for the roster right now,” he said. “Our third- and second-year players have a lot of playing experience. And that’s good. And of course we have a good sense already for the (2014) draft class.
“The draft class is gonna need to play an awful lot of football this preseason. But I feel good about what they are, where they are, and the way they appear at least in shorts right now. So we feel good. We feel like it’s a very talented group in a lot of different areas.”
All along, Fisher and general manager Les Snead have pointed to Year 3 of their regime as the breakout year. Fisher is making no predictions, then again, he said: “We feel like we’re built now to compete week-in, week-out.”
He added: “The division’s very, very competitive. The schedule is not easy. We’ve got challenges throughout the schedule — through the season. We expect significant improvement in our defense, particularly because of our personnel but (also) the system with Gregg (Williams) running the show.
“Offensively, we’ve got a backfield that’s loaded between Zac (Stacy), and Bennie (Cunningham), and Isaiah (Pead), and Tre (Mason), and some of the younger guys.”
At wide receiver, Fisher said, “Kenny (Britt) is really going to help us. And the younger guys have improved. Sted’s (Stedman Bailey) improved. We’re gonna be without him for four weeks.
“And I think we’re better equipped as we move forward to continue to keep Tavon (Austin) involved. Quickie’s (Brian Quick) coming on and Chris (Givens) is coming on. So it’s a solid group. AP’s (Austin Pettis) dependable.
Depth was a concern in 2012 and 2013, Fisher said, but not so much this year.
“Now we’re filling depth with younger players,” he said. “And that’s key, because those younger players continue to improve. Nothing against the Giordanos and Witherspoons, or anything like that. They played significant roles on our team over the last couple years — those types of players. But we’re filling depth now with Mo Alexander and E.J. Gaines, and those types of players.”
Which was about as clear an indication as possible that safety Matt Giordano and linebacker Will Witherspoon, both free agents, will not be back this season. However, Fisher said the return of veteran offensive guard Harvey Dahl isn’t a dead issue.
“We have left the door open for Harvey,” Fisher said.
Dahl was released in March in a salary cap-saving move, with a “failed physical” designation. He underwent both ankle and hip surgeries in the offseason; the hip surgery was the most serious and required the most rehab time.
In any event, Fisher is looking forward to what he called “significantly more competitive” practices this camp and this season.
“Our defense is more complex for obvious reasons,” he said, a reference to the addition of Williams as defensive coordinator. “It’s gonna create more problems for the offense, and it’s gonna make the offense better.”