Most, if not all, football players universally despise the grind that comes with training camp. It’s the most physically and mentally challenging time of the year for a player.
Still, that didn’t really make it something he enjoyed.
“Training camp is definitely not the funnest part of football but it’s something you have got to do so I was excited to get back to actually learning and playing football again,” Quinn said. “It had been awhile for me so I just try to get back out there and learn. At the end of the day, football is football and training camp is training camp. I don’t think that part will ever be fun but you have got to make the best you can out of it.”
The early returns from Quinn’s performance in the first trio of preseason games indicate that he has done just that and taken advantage of every repetition on the practice field and every minute in the classroom to try to get up to speed as fast as possible.
That was evident in last week’s game at Kansas City when Quinn broke through the Chiefs line unfazed by the incessant holding of offensive tackle Jared Gaither (who was flagged on the play) and dropped quarterback Ricky Stanzi for his first NFL sack of any sort.
Late in the game, Quinn came up with a key blocked field goal to help preserve the lead and give the Rams the win. All told, it was the type of performance that someone getting better every day would have almost a month into his NFL career.
“I thought he played a little bit faster last night than he had, which just means that he is probably thinking less and reacting more, especially at that position it’s pretty important,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I really thought the blocked field goal was pretty exceptional. He came through and made a nice play on that. It was good to see him do that. It was a big smile on his face when he came over to the sideline, so that was good to see.”
That big smile had been a long time in the making. Quinn last played in an organized, high level football game on Nov. 21, 2009 against Boston College. He was forced to sit out all of last season by the NCAA because it was determined he had taken illegal benefits.
Quinn finally started to feel like himself again when he suited up and played in the preseason opener against Indianapolis on Aug. 13.
“It was probably the first preseason game,” Quinn said. “There is no other feeling like it. Like I said, it’s been awhile for me and when I first got out there I was like ‘I missed this for a year and I don’t ever want to do that again.’ That’s something I felt inside me. I love this game.”
After the Rams used the 14th overall pick on Quinn, who was widely regarded as the best pure pass rusher in the draft, he was unable to come to St. Louis for anything more than a press conference as the lockout prevented teams from conducting their offseason conditioning programs as well as organized team activities and all minicamps.
That left Quinn to train on his own, something he said he did diligently but that also resulted in a knee injury that kept him out of practice the first week of training camp after the lockout was lifted.
Once he finally got back on the field, Quinn said he felt like he needed to hustle to get back up to speed and credits veterans on the defensive line such as
“I think it’s been real exceptional,” Quinn said. “I think that’s due to the great veterans we have on our D line that have helped mature me faster mentally out there on the field. It’s been great to be a part of a veteran D line and use my God given ability to try to put everything together to go out there and perform.”
Quinn’s biggest adjustments have come from finding a way to get used to the speed and tempo of the Rams’ high-octane practices. Rams coaches emphasize conditioning within practice and keeping things moving quickly so the team doesn’t get winded as much during games.
In addition, Quinn also had to adjust to the speed and strength of his teammates. Although Quinn looks older than his 21 years would suggest, that too took a bit of time.
“When I first got here it was definitely a shocker but at the end of the day, football is football,” Quinn said. “Of course guys are maybe a little faster and stronger but you have to man up yourself to compete with them. But at the end of the day football is football and you have just got to get your body prepared and your mind prepared to go out there and perform to the next level.”
Quinn says that the physical demands of the job have been far more difficult than the mental demands. While the Rams defense is relatively complex, it’s not as bad for a defensive lineman compared to, say, a linebacker or a safety.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy but it does mean that it’s been easier for Quinn to learn the defense and focus on his keys in the run game and getting after the quarterback in passing situations.
“Probably all of that combined,” Spagnuolo said. “He is a young guy. With all of these young guys it takes a while. It’s just the speed of the game and it’s all obviously going to increase in a couple of weeks. He still has a little ways to go, but it’s good to see every game or every practice that we go forward that he gets better and better and that what we are looking for.”
One thing that’s helped Quinn is that though he puts pressure on himself to perform and he prepares like a starter every day, he is still firmly behind Hall and Long on the depth chart.
So if he doesn’t register 10 sacks as a rookie, Quinn knows that it will be fine because his role for now is more of a complementary one.
That’s not to say he doesn’t set the bar that high for himself or that he’ll be satisfied with working in that role. The way Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole like to rotate defensive linemen, Quinn figures to get plenty of chances this year.
“You have to put that pressure on yourself because at the end of the day, you want to go out there and perform to the best of your ability whether you are a starter or not,” Quinn said. “You have to bring your A game no matter if it’s practice or a game, especially to prepare to be a starter even if you aren’t and take on that mindset so you can be ready when called to go out there and perform.”