Jeff Fisher, coach of the St Louis Rams, has given rookies something to shoot for even before the first practice of 2013: four-year veterans can commute to training camp.
"It's cool, it's something coach Fish does for those guys," safety TJ McDonald said after Tuesday's workout. "I've got my rookie duties and I understand that.
"I've got to stay in the hotel and I'm trying to keep my head, be about my work. When I get to that point, though, I'll be expecting to be at home."
Given that the Rams boast the league's youngest team, with 19 rookies on the active roster at the close of last season, it is a select group of players getting that privilege.
"That's a good deal unless you were a wife hoping to get rid of your husband," Fisher said, joking. "It just works out, it's business-like."
Several cornerstones on defence make the cut, including the defensive linemen Chris Long, Kendall Langford and William Hayes, the middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the cornerback Cortland Finnegan and the linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
On offence, the nine-year veteran centre Scott Wells, the guard Harvey Dahl and Kellen Clemens, the back-up quarterback, are eligible to commute. So is the newly reacquired linebacker Will Witherspoon, at 32, the oldest player on the team.
The Rams signed Witherspoon, a starter his first go around at St Louis from 2006-09, to a one-year deal.
"I guess it's the perks of being in the league so long," said Jorgen Hus, a centre.
"It's an accomplishment to be playing that many years. That's saying a lot."
Sam Bradford, the quarterback, leads the group of those falling just short of Fisher's cut-off.
Bradford, the offensive tackle Rodger Saffold and the tight end Lance Kendricks are entering their fourth season, and the receiver Austin Pettis is entering his third.
The Rams are not much older after adding a pair of first-round draft picks in wide receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree, and with youngsters tabbed to replace Steven Jackson, the veteran running back.
Training camp is at the team complex by choice this year with the first full-squad workout coming today. Before Fisher's first season, the Rams looked into remote locations and ultimately elected to stay home.
"We were one of the first teams to do it because we had no other option," Fisher said. "And falling into this situation, it worked for us. I think it works."
Austin was the eighth pick of the draft and will be sharing a hotel room with the receiver Stedman Bailey, his teammate at West Virginia.
"It's not bad at all," Bailey said. "I've been around Tavon so long he's like my brother, and we get a chance to just sit back and talk about how things are going, and if we need to study our playbook.
"We can quiz each other before we go to sleep." Allowing veterans some freedom acknowledges the fact they have been around much of the off-season and are ready for the build-up to the opener at home on September 8 against the Arizona Cardinals. It also sends a message to the younger members of the squad what is needed to make it in the NFL, starting with the gruelling experience of summer camp.
"Like I was just telling them, right now in the National Football League you can't spend time getting your team in shape," Fisher said. "You have to maintain that through camp."
Having the field to themselves for a few days helped about three dozen players get acclimated after getting a month or so off.
"I stayed in the playbook the whole time but there's nothing like live action," McDonald said.
"A couple days, that's all it took."
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