Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 5/16/12

DETROIT , MI - NOVEMBER 01: Head coach Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams looks on while playing the Detroit Lions on November 1, 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. St. Louis won the game 17-10. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS The spring means scrubbing away a bad memory. More than four months after Steve Spagnuolo left the Edward Jones Dome as the St. Louis Rams' coach for a final time, there's optimism at Rams Park this week with veterans returning for offseason training activities. It's found in what wide receiver Danario Alexander calls a more relaxed setting under coach Jeff Fisher. It's found in defensive end Chris Long saying all the offseason changes were positive. It's found in linebacker James Laurinaitis comparing himself to a giddy kid when learning from assistant coaches Chuck Cecil and Dave McGinnis. Oh, there's plenty to forget after a 2-14 season last fall brought the Rams' record during a five-year stretch of bumbling football to 15-65. So much work must be done that few expect them to come anywhere near their first NFC West title since 2003 in Fisher's first campaign. But there's hope in new beginnings, and the feeling has been rare at Rams Park for much of St. Louis' seven-year playoff drought. Ask around during OTAs, and there's a common theme in all the answers: The Rams are building. Players trust a veteran coaching staff to fix a sloppy and sorry style that made St. Louis one of the NFL's worst under Spagnuolo and former general manager Billy Devaney. It's unclear how many victories that mind-set change will produce starting in September. But for now, after so many years of struggle, optimism is enough. "It's different," said Alexander, who had 26 catches for 431 yards last season. "The program is run different. You can just tell by the whole aura of the building it's a different place. Coach Fisher has been a coach for a while. We've got coaches who have been coaching in the NFL longer than I've been born. I'm pretty excited about that. It's good to know that you're in those type of hands." Fisher is refreshed, and his energy has been obvious both on and off the practice field in recent months. He brings a command to his position that was scarce under former inexperienced head coaches like Spagnuolo and Scott Linehan. Fisher coached the Houston OilersTennessee Titans for 16 seasons before spending a year away from the game in 2011. The time removed from a sideline became a personal retreat: He fished and snowboarded in Montana. He also played golf and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. He returned to the NFL as the Rams' top choice to replace Spagnuolo. Since, he has become the most visible sign of St. Louis' recovery. "As you can see, practice has a different feel to it," said Long, who had a career-high 13 sacks last season. "Already, I think we look a lot better. It's just starting out and we've got a lot of work to do but guys are working really hard." Cornerback Cortland Finnegan knows this, and he made a subtle point when speaking about the Rams' offseason approach. He said they are rebuilding, not remaking themselves. He sees a structure in place for St. Louis to be competitive in the NFC West soon. It's a nuanced distinction that deserves a tweak: In the Rams' case, rebuilding will require a transformation. Losing has become so common that healing can't begin without a culture change. The Rams' win totals over the past five seasons show as much. They finished with three or fewer victories four times. And the 7-9 campaign in 2010 was viewed as a disappointment after dropping three of their last four games. To move forward, St. Louis must lose sight of a lost recent past. "We're pushing each other," said Finnegan, who signed with the Rams in March after spending six seasons with the Titans. "And we look to be a good football team. If we could all push each other, I like what we're going to do this year. We just want to do big things this year. We're going to start building here one day at practice and continue that." Said Fisher: "This is a team that's going out there to win, period. There are players that are emerging that were here (last season). There are players that are improving. We've got an influx of talent through free agency and the draft, and we're going to play hard and win games." They must change their approach to do so. The cleanup will take time, but it has begun.
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