First round goes to slot WR in camp battle

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- One of the fiercest battles in St. Louis Rams camp won't be for a position on the depth chart.

It'll be between Danny Amendola, one of the shiftiest slot receivers around, and Cortland Finnegan, the aggressive cornerback brought in to help new coach Jeff Fisher establish his program in St. Louis.

Mentioning the matchup to Finnegan on Monday triggered a flashback to practice a day earlier.

"He got me," Finnegan said. "The son of a gun got me."

Amendola finished the 2010 season with 85 receptions, instantly becoming a preferred target for quarterback Sam Bradford. Last season, a dislocated elbow and triceps damage suffered in Week 1 forced Amendola onto injured reserve. He appeared back in form when the Rams opened camp Sunday, as Finnegan can attest.

Finnegan played slot corner in Tennessee and figures to play that increasingly important role for the Rams. He's been working against Amendola all offseason. The two have earned a healthy respect for one another.

"He's going to be special for us," Finnegan said.

"It's good, it's fun," Amendola said. "He's a great player -- smart, instinctual, good to go against."

Back to their matchup Sunday. Finnegan had studied Amendola during the team's walk-through practice that morning. He was pretty sure Amendola would be running an out route from a quick-pass look. But when Finnegan stepped up to the line and pressed Amendola that afternoon, he could no longer see the tight end, whose route would have tipped off Amendola's intentions to run inside. The blind spot wound up being critical.

"When he started to go out, which he has never done all year, I wanted to go ahead and break on the outside of him and try to steal an outside breaking route," Finnegan explained. "The quarterback was under center and if you know football, if the running back is tight and the quarterback is under center, it is usually a quick pass. So, I was playing for quick pass and it just wasn't a quick pass."

Amendola ran inside on an angle route. Finnegan had no chance. The Rams hope that sequence repeats itself during the regular season.

"If you can cover him in the slot pretty much, there isn't any guy in the NFL you can't cover in the slot," Finnegan said.

Amendola won Round 1, but the battle is only beginning.