The St. Louis Rams could do worse than emulating the team that gave coach Steve Spagnuolo his first NFL job.
While some teams break up their offseason schedules with team-building trips to bowling alleys or movie theaters, Spagnuolo's first team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has annually helped fund and build playgrounds at area schools in need. The Rams did it last offseason, Spagnuolo's first with the team, and they did it again Tuesday at an elementary school in St. Louis where 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and roughly one-third were recently determined to be obese.
"Every time, when you get back on that bus after you have spent an hour and a half building a playground, you feel better than the people you helped," Spagnuolo said Wednesday. "It was just an uplifting day for anyone associated with the school and a very positive thing for the Rams."
That other building project -- the one involving the football team -- remains a work in progress. I had a chance to speak with Spagnuolo on Wednesday about a few current topics, but we started with last season. My sense was that the Rams were making progress through about midseason until the offensive line ran out of players.
"I did get that same feeling, especially with the offensive line," Spagnuolo said. "There was a time I thought it was really jelling together. Then, bang, the offensive line had a bunch of injuries. Then Steven [Jackson] got hurt. You have to stay healthy in this league. We’re a really healthy team now even though we had a couple injuries at the [organized team activities]."
Spagnuolo tends to be guarded with his comments, so I found it significant when he recently described himself as "very, very hopeful" on the Oshiomogho Atogwe front. He offered only one "very" this time, but it's probably an upset at this point if Atogwe heads elsewhere. Two other player notes: Spagnuolo thinks Chris Long is much more comfortable now that he isn't learning a new system -- Alex Smith can relate -- and he understands why fans might be worried about the depth behind Jackson.
"I get it, I get the concern," Spagnuolo said. "We always have our eyes open to help us."
Brian Westbrook, anyone?
The bigger story for the long term involves Sam Bradford's readiness to take over at quarterback. I've pointed out a few times how the Rams might be inclined to follow the plan Philadelphia implemented when Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur were on the staff and the Eagles were breaking in Donovan McNabb. Veteran Doug Pederson opened the season as the Eagles' starter, with McNabb playing as a backup before taking over as the starter in Week 10. As a reminder that even outstanding careers can begin modestly, McNabb completed 8 of 21 passes for 60 yards -- 2.9 yards per attempt -- in his first NFL start.
Spagnuolo said the Rams will be more inclined to start Bradford based on his readiness than any preset timetables. Veteran A.J. Feeley has worked with the starters so far.
"I'm looking at the progress, how he handles himself in the huddle, where we are with A.J.," Spagnuolo said.