EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the months leading up to the NFL draft, St. Louis Rams decision-makers Les Snead and Jeff Fisher had repeatedly made it clear the team intended to select a quarterback.
For the most part, the indications from the organization were the choice would come somewhere in the middle rounds, potentially even as high as the second or third. When draft weekend finally arrived, though, the Rams took their time in choosing a young signal-caller. They eventually pulled the trigger with their second sixth-round pick, using the No. 214 selection on Southern Methodist's Garrett Gilbert.
“He did a private workout for us," Fisher said. "(Offensive coordinator Brian) Schottenheimer, (quarterbacks) coach (Frank) Cignetti attended the workout for us. They were impressed with him. He threw the ball well. He’s poised in the pocket. He’s big, tall, strong. He’s got some mobility and has got good arm strength. We felt like he's got a chance to come in and compete."
Instead of spending an early pick on a quarterback who could potentially push incumbent Sam Bradford, the Rams went the developmental route with Gilbert. They watched as the top names came off the board in the first two days and passed on a passer with their fourth-round pick. By the time the Rams came on the clock again in the sixth round, the quarterback shelves were mostly picked over after a run on the position in Round 5.
As names such as Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron were called in the fifth, the Rams took solace in the fact they surrendered their opportunity to grab a quarterback in that round in order to secure second-round defensive back Lamarcus Joyner.
“No, because we keep looking at each other and saying, 'We have Joyner,'" Fisher said. "So just the constant reminder that we've got Joyner, so we're OK right now.”
And now the Rams have Gilbert.
As a rookie, Gilbert's first task will be to nail down a roster spot. The Rams' top two quarterback jobs are set with Bradford and veteran backup Shaun Hill. It's no sure thing the team will carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster, but if it does, Gilbert almost certainly has the inside track over Austin Davis.
But the Rams could also choose not to carry the third quarterback and try to push Gilbert through to the practice squad. That's all a discussion for another day.
For now, it's worth noting what Gilbert brings to the table. At 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, Gilbert cuts the frame of a prototype passer. He played in 47 college games with 37 starts, including his time at the University of Texas before transferring to SMU. He finished his collegiate career with 9,761 yards passing to go with 49 touchdowns and 45 interceptions. He also struggled mightily against top competition, throwing five touchdowns and 15 interceptions in nine games against ranked opponents.
Coming from SMU coach June Jones' wide-open passing attack, Gilbert spent much of that time taking snaps out of the shotgun. Although he has a strong arm, Gilbert also has a strange delivery, which can't quite be classified as sidearm -- but isn't far off. His first order of business with the Rams during these organized team activities will be adjusting to playing under center in the Rams' run-based pro-style offense.
“I would describe myself as a pocket passer first and foremost," Gilbert said. "I have always, in watching the game of football, I have always tried to model my game after pocket passers. But at the same time, I think I have a little bit of deceptive athletic ability to be able to get out and make some plays with my feet whenever things break down in the pocket. But I would definitely start with pocket passer to begin with.”
To be sure, Gilbert has the tools to develop into a serviceable backup quarterback, though it will take time. He was considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the country coming out of high school and occasionally flashes the physical ability that earned him those plaudits. But as with any sixth-round quarterback, success in the NFL is something of a long shot.
For now, Gilbert is just happy to have the opportunity.