- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Jeff Fisher keeps repeating the mantra: We’re going to be fine, it’ll be business as usual with no decrease in production.

The St. Louis Rams coach has no other choice but to press on without Sam Bradford and place total trust in journeyman Shaun Hill.

“He actually completed some passes today,” Fisher said after the first practice without the first overall pick of the 2010 draft and with the 34-year-old Hill under center. “He actually knows where to go with the football, believe it or not.”

It’s a very small favor, but at least this year the Rams (7-9) have a little time to adjust to the hard reality. They probably have a better fit to plug into the offense, too.

When Bradford tore his left ACL in Game 7 last season, there was an abrupt shift to a ground-heavy offense under backup Kellen Clemens. They’ll still emphasize handoffs to Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham and third-round pick Tre Mason. But Hill also will get a chance to air it out a bit to the likes of newcomer Kenny Britt and improving youngsters Tavon Austin, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey.

Hill’s first start since 2010 will be against the Vikings, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland back in 2002. He didn’t throw a pass last year as the backup to Matthew Stafford in Detroit and totaled just 16 passes the last three years.

The last extended action came in 2009 when he made 10 starts and threw 16 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions.

“Life of a backup, you might not go in for a few years, but you have to stay ready,” Hill said. “At the same time, it kind of feeds your fire.

“It makes you want to get back out there, and when the chance comes, you’re excited and you’re ready for it.”

Things to watch for from the Rams, chasing their first winning season since 2003:

WHO’S NEXT?: Not long after Bradford got the bad news Sunday, the name game of speculation began. For the fantasy crowd, any backup with a track record in the NFL or college, or with a past relationship with Fisher or offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, was fair game.

Fisher keeps shooting down rumors and reports the Rams are shopping for upgrades over Hill and untested backups Austin Davis and Garrett Gilbert, the latter a rookie. Anyway, it’s way too late to plug in a brand new starter.

“You know what I like is, ‘According to sources close to the situation, we’re da da da da da..’” Fisher said. “I love that, OK? We’ve not had any discussions with anybody.”

MINI-MITE: The Rams traded up to get diminutive Austin with the eighth overall pick last year, and Year 1 was a mixed bag. Austin had a handful of brilliant highs mixed with stretches of low productivity. He was sidelined by injury for the first time in his career, missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain.

He’s healthy again, plus now he knows the playbook. Last season, he confessed, everything looked like a foreign language.

At his best, the 5-foot-8, 176-pound Austin is a fancy toy who can be deployed all over the field and outrun everyone.

NO DISTRACTIONS: Fisher and GM Les Snead had the guts to draft Michael Sam late in the seventh round, and by all accounts adding the NFL’s first openly gay player to the mix has been a nonfactor in the locker room.

Sam’s celebrity status was briefly an issue, but Fisher quickly squelched an Oprah Winfrey Network documentary. Prominent teammate Chris Long noted that every team is made up of individuals from all backgrounds and many colors, rich or poor, straight or gay, and that it was everyone’s responsibility to pull together.

It wasn’t long before the biggest question was whether the SEC co-defensive player of the year could win a spot as a backup defensive end, perhaps the Rams’ strongest position. One possible scenario: Sam doesn’t make the final cut and then is added to the practice squad.

NEW DIRECTION: Most snaps on the practice field are punctuated by Gregg Williams’ commands. Defensive players know better than to coast.

Williams was Fisher’s original pick as defensive coordinator in 201, but Williams was suspended for his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Reunited with a long-time friend, he constantly prods a unit that aspires to top 10 status.

Bradford’s injury means the pressure is really on a group loaded with top picks and free agents to keep opponents’ scoring down.

THROWBACK TIME: Fifteen years ago, the Rams struck gold with unknown Kurt Warner, who stocked grocery store shelves while out of a job. Hill is not quite that much of a long shot heading into his 11th season, although he did once work at a fireworks store.

Throughout the season, the Rams will honor the 1999 “Greatest Show on Turf” Super Bowl title team that held off Fisher’s Titans, 23-16. Perhaps that’ll be inspiration, too, for a franchise on the rise with consecutive seven-win seasons under Fisher.


AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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