Rams players not mourning move from Macomb

Thursday, July 28, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- The day before the start of training camp is usually a hectic time for St. Louis Rams players as they move into a dormitory for several weeks of close bonding, toting personal belongings, television sets and mattress pads to combat the isolation.

On Wednesday, all they did was check into the team hotel a few blocks away from the team's headquarters and attend a meeting, since the Rams are now training at home. After nine years at the remote location of Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., the team is going to try two-a-days without the extra travel.

Players are giving the decision a big thumbs up. Here's what defensive lineman Damione Lewis will miss about Macomb: "Nothing, not one single thing."

After four years of training in Macomb, safety Adam Archuleta will miss meals at the local Ponderosa, but that's about it. He remembers the fields as "beat up, dry and real hard" as training camp progressed.

"There's nothing I like about Macomb; I don't think there's anything good about it," Archuleta said. "It's just a pain for everybody. You've got to travel three hours and then travel to wherever you've got to go, so it's just really annoying."

Traditionally, teams have chosen remote training sites to promote bonding among players who have nothing else to think about except football. Coach Mike Martz, who inherited the Macomb site from Dick Vermeil in 2000, liked that idea -- but not the idea of players making the three-plus hour drive north from St. Louis, much of it on two-lane roads.

Another inconvenience was a lack of medical personnel and/or facilities at the small college town, requiring a trip back to St. Louis for injured players. Preseason road games were arduous, with the team usually driving back to St. Louis and then taking a flight out.

Although Macomb officials seem to be holding out hope the Rams will return next year, Martz said this is no experiment.

"This is something we've contemplated for a while, but we really do feel this is much more beneficial for us," Martz said. "We'll see how things go, but I think as long as the logistics work out there's no other issues for us to consider.

"Anytime you can put your head on your own pillow or at least be in your hometown instead of traveling, that's always a good deal."

The Rams also are following a trend toward consolidating operations, with 15 of 32 NFL teams now training at home. So, players think they'll bond just fine at home.

A handful of veterans aren't even staying at the team hotel.

"Just throwing a bunch of guys in total isolation is not the only way to gain chemistry," Archuleta said. "A lot of the chemistry is gained on the field working with each other, and in the meeting room."

One year in Macomb was plenty for linebacker Brandon Chillar, and none was just fine with free agent linebacker Dexter Coakley. This is the first time that Coakley, who played eight seasons for the Cowboys, is training at home.

"My entire career we've always gone different places where the weather has just been extremely hot," Coakley said. "You kind of felt like you were in boot camp because you really didn't have any flexibility to do anything else other than football pretty much 24-7.

"This is where we're going to be and this is where we're going to be when we break camp, so the ultimate goal now is focusing on football."

Notes: The Rams have scheduled two-a-days the first nine days of training camp, but Martz said the second practice will be more of a glorified walkthrough to keep players from wearing down. ... TE Roland Williams, who begins his second stint with the Rams after being cut by the Raiders, has been named the first stringer ahead of Brandon Manumaleuna. ... Three draft picks remain unsigned, including first-rounder Alex Barron, an offensive tackle from Florida State. "I know his agent's got an awful lot of guys he's trying to do," Martz said. "Really nothing we can do about it and I'm not concerned about it."

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