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Football / Sports

Rams coach Fisher tries to tone down Johnny Manziel draft talk and Sam Bradford trade rumors

ST. LOUIS -- Jeff Fisher did his best to turn the thermostat down a couple of notches on "Johnny Football" fever.

"With respect to Sam (Bradford), he's our starter, as you guys know," Fisher said Tuesday at the Rams' pre-draft news conference. "That's the reason I took this job, was because of our owner (Stan Kroenke) and because of Sam as our quarterback."

This was consistent with what Fisher and general manager Les Snead have said for months. So no change there.

Fisher was then asked if the Rams were attempting to trade Bradford.

"No, we are not shopping Sam," Fisher said.

That comment was noteworthy because it's the first public statement from the Rams on the topic. (Sources indicated the same to the Post-Dispatch on Monday.)

Of course, that doesn't rule out the possibility of other teams calling the Rams to inquire about a trade.

Then came another interesting comment from Fisher.

"We're interested, if the right guy's there, to find help in a backup role to Sam," Fisher said.

You don't draft quarterbacks in Round 1 -- like Johnny Manziel -- to be backups.

Although most everyone in the media pounced on the fact that Manziel participated in a private workout with the Rams at Texas A&M last week, Fisher pointed out that the Rams also worked out wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and another unnamed receiver in College Station.

Fisher also noted that Manziel "was probably one of a dozen quarterbacks that we worked out over this process. ... We're gonna make sure we've done our due diligence."

During their weeklong trek conducting private workouts, Fisher said, he and Snead were checking into a hotel when they saw a television tease that said Manziel was sighted in St. Louis.

Which they found amusing because one, Fisher and Snead weren't in St. Louis at the time, and two, the deadline for bringing in players to team facilities for "top 30" visits had passed.

"So that kind of gives you an indication of the rumors and things that are out there," Fisher said.

Snead laughed when he recalled learning of reports that he and Fisher met with Manziel for "80 hours at the combine. That broke (the rules) by, say, 79 hours and 45 minutes."

That was a "slight" exaggeration by Snead; it was 80 minutes of meeting time in the report, not 80 hours. But you get the point. The time limit for the formal suite visits at the NFL scouting combine is 15 minutes.

So what do the Rams like about Manziel? Fisher's answer on that one bordered on vanilla and wasn't revealing.

"Well, I think his production and his competitiveness, and everything speaks for itself," Fisher said. "I mean he was an outstanding college football player, as it was reflected the year before last with the (awards) that he received. He can make all the plays, throw the football, and he's a great teammate. He's been a very productive player and great for their program."

Later, Snead ducked a question asking his impressions of Manziel the person during the time spent with the player known as Johnny Football.

"You sit down and meet with a kid, you can tell he's intelligent, he's engaging, he's passionate about football," Snead said, speaking about prospects in general. "What's neat about it ... the more times I meet these young kids, the more I'm like, 'Wow. These guys are getting smarter, they're getting more dynamic.' "

Overall, Snead and Fisher left just enough wiggle room Tuesday -- a sliver of uncertainty, if you will -- about the possibility of Manziel ending up with the Rams. When it comes to personnel moves in the NFL, you never totally say never.

For example, Fisher was asked if there was anything that could happen between now and the start of the draft Thursday that could change how the team feels about Bradford, and the possibility of trading him.

"Well, anything can happen -- good question," Fisher replied. "But I think it's highly unlikely."

And while expressing "all the confidence in the world that (Bradford) will be back," Fisher added, "But we also have responsibility to continue to upgrade this roster."

So make of all that what you will. But it's not as if Fisher and Snead pounded a fist on the table they sat at Tuesday and shouted:"Stop all this Manziel talk!"

Fisher said the Rams have identified six to eight players who could be potential fits for the team at No. 2 overall.

It would've been nice if he handed out a list of names at this point. But he didn't.

Likely suspects are defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker Khalil Mack, at least two but maybe all three of the top offensive linemen (Matthews, Greg Robinson and Taylor Leewan), and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (and maybe Evans as well).

Should Manziel be on that list? It doesn't seem likely if the Rams are really just looking for a backup quarterback.

Obviously, what Houston does at No. 1 will affect the pecking order in that list, and so would a possible trade-down by the Rams at No. 2.

So far Snead said there has been nothing firm in terms of potential trade partners.

"People are still flirting," Snead said. "Nobody's asking me to the prom yet."

The most likely trade-down possibility for the Rams still seems to be moving down to No. 6 overall with Atlanta if Clowney isn't taken by Houston at No. 1.

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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