The Rams today will open their annual four-day May minicamp, where new faces and new ideas traditionally meet old ones--and sometimes replace them altogether.
There is plenty that's new this year: assistant coaches Ernie Zampese and Artie Gigantino; top draft choices Donald Evans and Clifford Hicks, and guard Mike Schad, the first-round choice of a year ago who lost 25 pounds and switched from offensive tackle in an effort to stay in the National Football League.
There is also new hope, for linebacker Jim Collins, who is attempting a comeback after missing an entire season with a neck injury, and a new offense, coordinated this season by Zampese, who most recently oversaw the San Diego Chargers' high-wire offense.
And this is the week that it should begin to come together. Any other comparisons with the Rams of next September should be guarded, though.
For what you won't see in minicamp are many familiar faces. The Rams have 15 veteran free agents who have not yet signed contracts. And players without contracts and/or insurance policies don't usually risk ankle sprains and off-season surgery.
"From a business standpoint, they're probably better off not coming," Coach John Robinson said.
There are likely to be exceptions, such as Collins and safety Johnnie Johnson, both of whom worked out--at their own risk--in a defensive minicamp at Rams Park last week.
Veteran free agents who won't be back include quarterback Steve Bartkowski, safety Tim Fox, nose tackle Charles DeJurnett and linebackers Cliff Thrift, Jim Laughlin and Mike McDonald, all of whom the Rams decided they could get along without, at least for the time being.
"We're interested in the young people anyway," Robinson said. "We have to teach and show them new things."
It appears doubtful that Robinson's most important student, second-round pick Evans, will be in town for the minicamp. Evans, a defensive end from Winston-Salem State in North Carolina, has remained at home since the death of his mother May 2.
Evans' agent, Steve Weinberg, said last week that Evans would stay in North Carolina, but Robinson expects Evans will decide to come to California sooner than planned.
"I want to give him as much leeway as possible to take care of his grief," Robinson said. "But I remember when my father died, I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could."
Other Rams who have not signed contracts include kicker Mike Lansford; quarterback Steve Dils; running backs Mike Guman, Barry Redden and Charles White; tight end Tony Hunter; tackle Duval Love; safety Vince Newsome; tackle Irv Pankey; linebackers Norwood Vann and Mike Wilcher, and wide receivers Michael Young and Henry Ellard. It is believed that about half of those players are close to signing.
The problem cases again this year appear to be Ellard and Redden. Ellard staged an 89-day holdout last season before signing a nine-game contract. Now, he's essentially back in the same situation. He still wants about $500,000 a season, and the Rams still don't think he is worth that much, meaning it could be another long, hot, holdout summer.
The Rams have talked to three NFL teams about Redden, but nothing has been worked out. Redden, finally a starter last season, had his best year with 684 total yards, but it hasn't changed his desire to be traded.