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NFL camp preview: Fisher brings calm, confidence to Rams

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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the second year with coach Jeff Fisher at the helm of the St. Louis Rams, there seems to be a sense of calm confidence despite a young roster heading into the opening of training camp Wednesday and the first workout Thursday.

And that will be important, as the Rams compete in what has become the toughest division in the NFL with the NFC West featuring San Francisco and Seattle.

But, as the team reflects Fisher, the Rams aren't conceding anything. And they will remind anyone listening that the Super Bowl-bound 49ers were winless against the Rams last season.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer loves the pieces he's been given to be creative. While second-year running back Daryl Richardson is listed as the projected starter on the team's camp depth chart, Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy will contribute.

Although someone must officially start the game, Schottenheimer will find numerous ways to use them all. The question will be whether anyone can keep defenses honest and allow the passing game to be effective.

Defensively, the biggest question mark is at safety, where 2012 starters Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl are gone. Some experience was added with the late offseason signing of Matt Giordano, and he will have to get up to speed quickly.

The current starters are Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod, but those names are clearly written in pencil. Unknown is whether anyone else like rookie T.J. McDonald can step up and challenge for significant playing time.

Fisher emphasizes doing well in division games, which the Rams did last season with a 4-1-1 record, including a win and a tie against the 49ers. However, the Rams were 3-7 in other games.

It is not a make-or-break year for quarterback Sam Bradford, but he must take more positive steps this season. He is establishing himself as a team leader following the departure of running back Steven Jackson, but most important is that Bradford is emboldened by being in the same offense for the second straight season.

But the talent around him is young and inexperienced. No running back has been in the league for more than one season. Austin Pettis is the most experienced of the wide receivers, and he's played only two seasons.

Bradford will be challenged to help bring the group together and get the best out of everyone, especially rookie receiver Tavon Austin.

Austin has a load of expectations on his shoulders. He could line up in the backfield, and is also expected to return kicks. His presence alone should create opportunities for other players on offense.

Former Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce said of Austin to ESPN.com, "He's electrifying. I mean, you look at this guy; he can stop on a dime and leave you two nickels. He can get vertical and then run away from you. That's a rarity in the league."

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins agrees. He told NFL Network he's been impressed with the team's rookie receiver.

"He's a dynamic receiver, great speed, great hands, great quickness," Jenkins said. "I think he can be very special. He's just got to work, stay focused and, like I said, just put himself around positive people. But as far as talent-wise he has it all."

There is an important battle again for the starting spot at left guard. Rob Turner won the job last year, but left for Tennessee in free agency. The Rams re-signed Chris Williams, and he will compete with Shelley Smith and Rokevious Watkins to be the starter.

Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are the top two tight ends, and Kendricks improved as a blocker and receiver last season. The third tight end will come down to a competition between Mike McNeill and Zach Potter.
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