ST. LOUIS – Last Friday morning, in an indoor practice facility too small for a football game and too short for a grand finale, Jeff Fisher stood motionless on the sideline of a turf field and watched his future unfold.
2012 NFL draft's top wide receiver prospects. It lasted 48 hours, spanned 3,700 miles and included a trip to tiny Boone, N.C., that would change the franchise's game plan for bolstering its area of greatest need.Fisher, the veteran coach hired three months earlier by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and charged with turning around one of pro sports' most lifeless franchises, had assembled a small team delegation for a whirlwind tour of the
By the time Appalachian State wideout Brian Quick had finished his exceptional half-hour workout, Fisher and the others in attendance – general manager Les Snead, chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, assistant coaches Brian Schottenheimer and Ray Sherman and backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Tom Brandstater – no longer felt as desperate to acquire the top-rated receiver on their draft board, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.
That conviction would come into play on Thursday night as the team narrowly missed out on Blackmon in the early stages of the draft but stuck to an approach that allowed them to land Quick Friday evening with the first pick of the second round, a week after he wowed them on the Appalachian State campus.
The Rams waited approximately two seconds before bringing Quick into the fold, as Snead called the wideout and handed the phone to Fisher. "Let's get this rolling," Fisher said, smiling, while Snead instructed a team employee to "turn in the card."
Sherman, the veteran receivers coach, then cracked up the 30 or so scouts, coaches and team officials in the team's war room by assuming the triumphant "Belt" pose made popular by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and, mimicking the refrain from a popular TV commercial, exclaiming, "Discount Double-Check!"
Hours earlier on Friday, after he and Snead had finalized their decision to pick Quick unless blown away by a substantial trade offer, Fisher sat in his office at Rams Park and spoke excitedly of third-year quarterback Sam Bradford's new No. 1 receiving target.
"He's a tall, athletic, talented receiver," Fisher said. "He's got great speed and impressive ball skills. He might not be a big name, but we believe he'll do some big things for us."
Sherman, who (along with offensive coordinator Schottenheimer) presided over Quick's scripted workout, went a step further, comparing the young wideout to a prominent player he coached while working for the Dallas Cowboys a few years back.
"I see a lot of similarities to Terrell Owens," Sherman said Thursday evening. "The way the kid goes and gets the ball, the physicality, the desire … he has a chance to be special, no doubt."
Like Owens, a former Tennessee-Chattanooga basketball player who blossomed into stardom after picked by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 1996 draft, Quick wasn't a darling of the mock-draft set. Instead, he's a former hoops star who didn't go out for football until his senior season of high school.
During an interview with Rams officials at the NFL scouting combine in February, and at a subsequent visit to the team's training facility, Quick convinced Fisher, Snead and other Rams powerbrokers that he possesses none of the pain-in-the-butt qualities for which T.O. is infamous. Yet it wasn't until Quick's tour de force performance in Boone that he shot up toward the upper echelons of the team's draft board.
Quick's workout came on the second and most remote stop of the Rams' Receiver Tour, which began with a Thursday afternoon trip to South Bend, Ind., to watch Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. That workout, and subsequent visits to watch Baylor's Kendall Wright, OSU's Blackmon and Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, all were reported by media outlets in the days before the draft.
Only the Quick-stop remained a secret, which may have worked to the Rams' advantage Thursday night. With the other four players all off the board by the end of the first round, Quick was by far the desired choice to fill the team's most obvious need, and Fisher and Snead were extremely relieved that he remained on the board at the close of business.
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Fisher's faith in Quick was one of the factors that empowered the coach to green light a trade down from the sixth overall pick which allowed the Rams to grab a third selection in the second round. Based on Quick's performance in his workout the previous week, Fisher felt secure that he had a fallback plan in place should Blackmon not fall to the Rams at No. 6.
Once the Jaguars traded up to select Blackmon with the fifth overall selection, Fisher knew he had to get at least one of the five receivers he'd visited on the tour. Quick and Jenkins were the next-most desired targets, followed by Floyd and Wright. (It was also highly plausible that the Rams would have drafted Blackmon and Quick at picks No. 6 and 33, respectively – that's how much they liked the small-college star after their visit to Boone.)
After the Jags eliminated Blackmon as an option, Fisher and Snead had no qualms about pulling the trigger on a trade with the Cowboys that gave them the 14th and 45th overall selections in exchange for the sixth pick, largely because they believed Quick would be available with the 33rd pick. And when the Arizona Cardinals took Floyd off the board with the 13th overall selection, one spot before St. Louis selected LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, no one in the war room did anything but celebrate.
There were some stressful moments late Thursday night during the first round's final two selections, after the 49ers had taken Jenkins 30th overall. When the Buccaneers and Giants each selected running backs, Fisher and Snead high-fived – that meant Quick would be there for the taking. By early Friday morning, though they'd already been approached by New York Jets with an offer to trade out of the first pick of the second round, Fisher and Snead were reasonably convinced they'd stay put and take Quick and went to bed with that plan in place.
Nothing they heard on Friday persuaded Fisher or Snead to reverse that decision, and both men cited their trip to Boone as a major reason for their conviction.
The five-stop journey, conducted via private aircraft, began Thursday afternoon in St. Louis and featured several memorable moments.
Before working out Wright on the Baylor campus in Waco, Texas last Friday, Fisher et al ran into quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner whose availability at the No. 2 overall selection – and the Washington Redskins' desperate desire to acquire him – allowed St. Louis to pull off a pre-draft blockbuster trade the previous month.
Bradford – a former University of Oklahoma star who has an offseason residence in his hometown of Oklahoma City – drove up to Stillwater to watch Blackmon's workout on the OSU campus last Saturday morning, requiring him to set foot on enemy soil. "Sam said it was a little strange," Sherman recalled, laughing. "He said, 'There's a whole lot of orange."
The trip's most indelible image, however, occurred in Boone. After leaving South Bend following Floyd's workout late last Thursday afternoon, the Rams' traveling party flew to Lenoir, N.C., where a pair of S.U.V.s were waiting to transport them to Boone. The 40-mile drive took them past Grandfather Mountain where, they were told, cycling legend Lance Armstrong sometimes trains by ascending the nearly 6,000-foot peak.
Following a steak dinner, Fisher and the gang retired for the evening. He and Snead each snuck in an early morning run before driving to the Appalachian State campus, where Quick was already warmed up and ready to go.
With Brandstater having thrown the previous day to Floyd, it was Clemens' turn to deliver the passes to Quick. Schottenheimer and Sherman, who'd scripted identical workouts for each of the five receivers, moved around the field with Clemens as Quick ran the assigned routes.
Standing on the sideline, Fisher and Snead gave each other knowing looks that, loosely translated, asked one another, Are you seeing what I'm seeing?
"We were all pretty impressed," Schottenheimer recalled Friday. "The ball [practically] never hit the ground once. Even though he's a tall guy, he got his weight low and grabbed the ball without making it look difficult. He got in and out of breaks, and he was explosive."
All in all, the workout was as close to perfect as anyone could have expected – until the very last throw. As per the script, Schottenheimer instructed Quick to blast off the line and run an all-out post route. As the winded receiver raced downfield, Clemens wound up and prepared to let it rip.
The ball left the quarterback's hand. Quick broke diagonally toward the middle of the field.
He put up his hands, but the pigskin never arrived.
"The damn ball hit the roof," Fisher recalled Friday. "Kellen threw it so high that it caromed off some scaffolding and floated to the ground. We teased him about it the rest of the trip."
Seven days later, the Rams made Quick the first pick of the second round, giving Bradford the young receiving threat he has lacked since coming to St. Louis as the first overall pick of the 2010 draft.
Like a deep ball bouncing off the roof, few people outside of St. Louis saw it coming.
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