The Los Angeles Rams are moving closer to the beginning of the final phase of the offseason conditioning program. That would be the time when all players can come together on a field and go through full-squad practices (with some limitations, of course): organized team activities.
The Rams' first OTA is set for May 31 at their current temporary training facility in Oxnard, California. Before we get there, we're counting down five of the questions we'll look to get answered when the Rams get going again:
The question: The Rams had a number of serious injuries to key players in 2015 and they're counting on those players to come back healthy and contribute this season. Where do those players stand at this point in the offseason and what will be expected of them in 2016?
Outlook: It's easy to forget just how banged up the Rams were by the end of last season. Defensive end Robert Quinn (back), cornerback E.J. Gaines (foot), linebacker Alec Ogletree (ankle/leg), guard Rodger Saffold (shoulder), safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder), guard Jamon Brown (leg) and receiver Stedman Bailey (head wounds) all missed varying amounts of time with serious injuries that landed them on some form of injured reserve. That doesn't account for players such as end Chris Long who missed chunks of time, or lesser-known players such as offensive tackle Darrell Williams who also suffered season-ending injuries. Bottom line, the Rams' athletic-training staff had a busy season and an even busier offseason working with players attempting to return from their ailments. Looking ahead to next season, the Rams are counting heavily on at least six of those mentioned above. Quinn, Gaines, Ogletree, Saffold, Brown and McDonald are projected starters and all will be expected to produce at or above previous levels. At the March owners meetings, I asked Rams coach Jeff Fisher about how those players were recovering, and he said he expected almost all of them to be ready for OTAs, and if not then that the start of training camp would be the target.
Breaking it down individually, the players who seemed closest to being ready to go near the end of the season and into the offseason were Ogletree, Gaines, Saffold and Brown. Remember, Ogletree actually began his window to return from the designated to return injured list at the end of last season, so he should be good to go. That's particularly important given his move to middle linebacker in 2016. Gaines said after the season he expected to be ready to go for OTAs as well. That would also be good news considering he's the early favorite to step in as the replacement for the departed Janoris Jenkins. Last season's opening-day guard duo, Saffold and Brown, have been active on social media showing their offseason workouts. The respecitive statuses of Quinn and McDonald are a bit more tenuous. McDonald was also optimistic about his return to health earlier this offseason but could be brought along more slowly. Of all the Rams working their way back from injury, Quinn might be the biggest question mark, if only because a back surgery is a serious thing. Quinn has told media in recent weeks that he's coming along but has made no promises about his level of participation in the offseason program.
In their offseasons under Fisher, the Rams have often erred on the side of caution when it comes to injured players and OTAs. Even players who might normally be able to practice have been held out in years past. So even if multiple names from the above list aren't involved in this year's version of OTAs, it doesn't necessarily mean they're behind schedule. But when the Rams get back on the field, we'll get at least a glimpse at how so many of their key players are coming along.