ST. LOUIS – James Laurinaitis was optimistic as he joined the St. Louis Rams in 2009, though they were coming off a two-win season. This summer, he truly believes he's part of a team poised to turn the corner.
"Oh absolutely. Absolutely," the middle linebacker said after the first full-squad training camp practice Thursday night. "I was genuinely excited last year, same thing this year.
"The difference is I think this year's team is more talented on paper, and hopefully that translates to the record."
Laurinaitis also thought it was Super Bowl or bust in July 2012 when the Rams were coming off another 2-14 record and rebuilding under new coach Jeff Fisher, who stressed from the beginning that players should anticipate success.
They've set the foundation, going 7-8-1 and staying competitive in most games last year. They've got the comfort of familiarity, there appears to be a much better supporting cast for quarterback Sam Bradford, and there's more speed across the board.
The Rams failed to build on another seven-win team in 2011 and nosedived in Steve Spagnuolo's final season.
Nobody's worried that'll happen again and Laurinaitis said there's no reason this team can't reach for the sky.
"I think realistically this team needs to be thinking Super Bowl," he said. "If you don't talk about it, if you're afraid to talk about it, you're never going to achieve it."
Players were perhaps buoyed by announced attendance of 1,755 on an unseasonably mild day with temperatures in the mid-80s for a two-hour workout, with a dunk tank that tested passing accuracy and autographs from offensive linemen as additional attractions.
Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said it was the best weekday showing in his five years with the team.
"We have evidence to believe," said defensive end Chris Long, now the senior Ram entering his sixth season. "We have reason to believe.
"Some of these things are tangible."
Fisher tempered the enthusiasm by ticking off the challenges the NFL's youngest team still faces. They need to score more, make more stops on defense and minimize penalties to improve on the big step they took last year.
"We've got a good start," Fisher said. "We've got a ways to go. We're not satisfied."
Fisher didn't think this was a make-or-break year for Bradford, either. Bradford was the first overall pick of the 2010 draft.
"My expectations of myself are always high, I don't think there's anyone outside this building that can have higher expectations of myself than I do," Bradford said.
"The goal for me is to build on what I was able to do last year."
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer promises to expand the options for Bradford, in addition to talent upgrades topped by tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick of the draft.
"We're faster at almost all the positions on the field, and I think that puts a lot of stress on the defense," Bradford said. "They hesitate for a second, we're by them."
No. 11 Austin jerseys were prominently displayed for sale in the team souvenir tent alongside those of Bradford, Long and Laurinaitis.
Players underwent physicals earlier this week resulting in one roster adjustment when offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins reported overweight for the second straight year and was released on the eve of camp.
"Until he can get that stuff figured out and make a commitment, we're just going on without him," Fisher said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he gets another opportunity because he's got some ability."
Online: AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org/