August 01, 2016

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson remembers when he was a rookie determined to make a name for himself on special teams.

''I knew that you do good on special teams, you get on the field. I took pride in that,'' Johnson said.

Johnson is now a firmly established part of the Rams defense, allowing him to enjoy the increased intensity of Monday's practice focused entirely on special teams. Without fans in attendance for the first time during training camp at UC Irvine, the Rams more than made up for the possible energy deficit during spirited drills as George Thorogood's ''Bad to the Bone'' blared over the speakers.

''Man, this is the most exciting practice for me to see what young guys come up and step up,'' Johnson said. ''This is the first day in pads, so you know it's going to be physical.''

Set to play under the franchise tag after he and the Rams failed to come to terms on a long-term extension, Johnson refused to discuss those negotiations, saying that he would let his play do the talking and address his contract status after the season ends.

Instead, Johnson singled out former Auburn wide receiver Duke Williams as one youngster that impressed. As an undrafted rookie free agent who struggled with dropped passes during the first two practices, carving out a role on special teams might be Williams' best path to a roster spot.

Special teams coordinator John Fassel pointed out the success the Rams have had in recent years with players that initially made the roster because of their special teams contributions and have gradually built a larger role. That group includes safeties Maurice Alexander and Cody Davis and running back Benny Cunningham.

''If it's a toss-up at a certain position, then trump card is special teams,'' Fassel said. ''We've been fortunate the last couple years that Coach (Jeff) Fisher recognizes that and picks a guy out that looks like they might have some potential to play 25 snaps a game on special teams. Three, four, five guys a year find that role and then perform.''

After teaching technique during organized team activities, Fassel's focus is now on seeing those lessons put into practice. Fassel said these early practices are especially telling, given how little special teams film exists for most college starters.

''You're looking for guys that can run,'' Fassel said. ''Who's doing the right thing? Who's fighting and scrapping?''

The Rams already have a steady group of specialists in punter Johnny Hekker, kicker Greg Zuerlein, and long snapper Jake McQuaide, with wide receiver Tavon Austin and Cunningham excelling on returns. With a strong nucleus already in place, Fassel wants the Rams to cut down on penalties and create better field position for the offense.

Johnson recognized that effort when Alexander spun down a teammate during a joint blocking and coverage drill, giving his fellow defensive back a subtle chest bump. He might not play much on special teams anymore, but Johnson still has pride in what happens there.

NOTES: Wide receiver Tavon Austin returned to action after leaving Sunday's practice early due to cramps. . Hekker wore No. 3 during practice as a tribute to former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, who was killed in a car accident in Wisconsin on July 23.

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