ST. LOUIS -- Last summer, it was the Michael Sam experience. This year, it's the threat of a move back to the West Coast casting a large shadow on St. Louis Rams training camp.
Owner Stan Kroenke has been silent about his intentions since acquiring a parcel of land in Inglewood, California, where a stadium could be built. The Rams are year to year on their lease for the Edward Jones Dome, and owners are holding a special meeting Aug. 11 in Chicago to address potential relocation of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders.
Coach Jeff Fisher insists it's simply a coincidence that the Rams (6-10) will practice with the Cowboys for three days in mid-August in Oxnard, California. The coach pointed out the team will be in the vicinity after playing a preseason game at Oakland.
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"The two are not related," Fisher said at the end of offseason workouts. "We talked to a number of teams besides the Cowboys about working together, and the Cowboys were really the only one that worked out.
"We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it would be beneficial."
Players can't fret about such machinations. Their responsibility is doing everything they can in Year 4 of the Fisher regime to make the franchise a contender in the rugged NFC West.
Things to watch for at Rams training camp in suburban St. Louis:
RISING DEFENSE: The pass rush really clicked the last two-thirds of the season under coordinator Gregg Williams with 40 sacks the last 11 games after none in the first five. For the first time under Fisher, the Rams won't have to absorb a new playbook.
"It's light years on where we were last year because they didn't know me and I didn't know them," Williams said. "It took a little bit of time for all of us to get acclimated last year."
DE Robert Quinn and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald led the way last season. DE Chris Long opens camp healthy after being limited to six games last year by an ankle injury. William Hayes and Eugene Sims provide quality depth, plus tackle Nick Fairley and linebacker Akeem Ayers were signed in free agency.
GURLEY WATCH: The former Georgia standout was the 10th pick of the draft even though he was coming off midseason left knee surgery. He might not be ready for the opener Sept. 13 against NFC champion Seattle.
Gurley rehabbed in St. Louis during the break after offseason workouts ended in mid-June. There's depth at running back with last year's starter, Tre Mason, and versatile Benny Cunningham among the returnees.
FOLES FACTOR: Nick Foles, acquired in a deal for Sam Bradford, has already had plenty of time to get acquainted with an offense run by new coordinator Frank Cignetti. He'll hope to establish timing with targets Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and Tavon Austin.
Foles is entering the final year of his contract, so there's a decision to be made.
"We've had some discussions. I think what Nick has done early in his career, he's proven he can get the job done," Fisher said.
"I felt like this was home when I got here," Foles said. "That's nothing against Philly."
NEW LINE: The offensive line is a question with guard Rodger Saffold and left tackle Greg Robinson the only holdovers. Two rookies could start -- second-rounder Rob Havenstein at tackle and third-rounder Jamon Brown at guard. The center could be a veteran backup, either Barrett Jones or Tim Barnes.
"We don't have a lot of experience at the center position, but you gain experience by playing," Fisher said.
PUT UP TIME: Since Fisher arrived, the Rams have frequently touted themselves as the youngest team in the NFL. That can no longer be an excuse for a franchise that made initial advances but since then has treaded water.
The Rams haven't fielded a winner since 2003 and haven't been to the playoffs since '04. They've won seven, seven and six games under Fisher, hardly a turnaround. They'll be tested right away with that opener against Seattle.