NFC West: Dominique Curry

XTRA910 audio: Where the Rams stand

June, 19, 2012
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Mike Jurecki of XTRA Sports 910 AM called Monday to discuss leading NFC West topics, including where the St. Louis Rams stand in acquiring help for quarterback Sam Bradford.

In addition to passing along the full audio and a partial transcript from our conversation, I've put together a chart updating the Rams' situation at wide receiver.

First, the transcript regarding Bradford and St. Louis:
"They’re also going to help him with the way they structure their offense. Remember a year ago, they were coming off a 7-9 season. There was really a feeling that Bradford was ready to take the big next step. They were going to put the whole playbook in his hands and saddle him up, give him all the protections at the line of scrimmage, bring in Josh McDaniels and turn him (Bradford) into Tom Brady. That was the level of excitement that they had.

"Now they’ve gone almost totally counter to that where they’ve taken things off of Bradford’s plate. Scott Wells, the veteran center, he is going to handle the protections. So that is not going to be something that Bradford has to worry about. They’re going to run the ball. Jeff Fisher has always wanted to run the ball a ton, so they are going to take some pressure off Bradford that way. And then they have really just added a lot of players at wide receiver, they’ve got a young running back now (Isaiah Pead), but none of them stands out so much that you say, 'That’s going to be the guy that emerges.'"
Steve Smith, formerly of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, is one of the key variables for the Rams as they develop younger players at receiver. Smith caught 117 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009, but knee problems have limited him to 18 games and 59 receptions over the past two seasons.
We've made it, just about, to the 2012 NFL draft.

The anticipation kept at least one NFC West fan and probably a few NFL general managers from sleeping Wednesday night (throw me into that category as well, given that I was up to receive the above-linked tweet).

Let's pass at least some of the remaining time with a spin around the division.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on defensive backs the Seahawks could consider in each round. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is one consideration. Rang: "An athletic cover corner with the size and physicality to be successful in Seattle’s press scheme, Gilmore’s stock is on the rise as the draft approaches."

Also from Williams: Sounds like the Seahawks plan to keep Kam Chancellor at safety, an indication Mark Barron isn't a likely first-round selection for Seattle. General manager John Schneider: "We usually try not to move Pro Bowl players to different positions."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks Luke Kuechly would be the best choice for the Seahawks with the 12th overall choice if the Boston College linebacker remains available at that point.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic considers the Cardinals' draft options and offers this: "The Cardinals have had their shares of busts, such as linebackers Cody Brown (second round, 2009) and Buster Davis (third round, 2007). Others haven't played up to their lofty draft status, such as tackle Levi Brown (fifth overall, 2007). And others have developed slower than the team had hoped, such as nose tackle Dan Williams (first round, 2010). But early returns suggest the Cardinals had one of their better draft classes in 2011. Three of the eight picks became regular starters on a team that went 8-8."

Also from Somers: what draft analysts are saying about Riley Reiff and Michael Floyd.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has the Cardinals selecting Reiff at No. 13. He has Justin Blackmon to St. Louis, Melvin Ingram to Seattle and Amini Silatolu to San Francisco.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com also has the 49ers selecting Silatolu in the first round. Maiocco: "Offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno drove to meet Silatolu last week at his old high school. They drew up several 49ers offensive plays on the board, along with the corresponding adjustments based on the defense. And then they had Silatolu repeat the plays back to them. Silatolu told CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday that the zone blocking scheme he ran in college is similar to the 49ers' system."

Also from Maiocco: thoughts on why the 49ers should wait until after the first round before selecting a wide receiver.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would be much better off drafting Fleener than their next starting right guard. Cohn: "Right guard is the least important offensive lineman. Because Trent Baalke moved up in the draft last year to take Daniel Kilgore, so Baalke and his brain trust must feel Kilgore has potential. Because a good right guard is not hard to find in later rounds."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News lays out a case for the 49ers drafting Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News explains why he thinks receiver Alshon Jeffery will be the 49ers' choice at No. 30.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher downplayed "rumors" regarding running back Steven Jackson being unhappy with his contract or on the trading block. Fisher: "Steven's here in the offseason program. He's upstairs every other day (where the coaches’ offices are located). He’s doing great. Having fun. Learning the offense. No discussion, conversation, or anything along that sort to my knowledge."

Also from Thomas: thoughts on the Rams possibly trading down. Thomas: "If they stay at No. 6, Justin Blackmon is the logical choice -- and it looks like he’ll be there when they pick. But the Rams need more picks, and if the right offer presents itself to trade down, the Rams will do that."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should use the sixth overall choice for Blackmon. Miklasz: "It makes no sense to draft quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall, invest $50 million guaranteed in his rookie (2010) contract, then continue to surround him with mediocrity. I agree with those who say Blackmon isn't the prototype No. 1 wideout. But here are the names of the seven wide receivers on the Rams' roster: Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Dominique Curry."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes along highlights and notes from Fisher's news conference.

2012 NFL Draft Machine: WRs catch on

March, 31, 2012
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The recently activated 2012 NFL Draft Machine lets us quickly play around with various mock scenarios.

The other eight divisional bloggers and I are working on one for publication Monday.

I'm picking for the NFC West teams and couldn't help but notice how frequently wide receiver factored into the decision making for the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in particular.

Justin Blackmon was an obvious consideration for the Rams at No. 6. Michael Floyd entered into consideration for the Cardinals at No. 13. The 49ers do not pick until No. 30, making it less clear which wideouts might be available.

The chart shows current wide receivers for NFC West teams. The Rams' Danny Amendola is a restricted free agent. The others are signed and active.

Enjoy the draft machine. I'll break out my thoughts on NFC West possibilities when our mock runs Monday.

Closer look at Peterson's 99-yard return

November, 7, 2011
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Patrick Peterson's 99-yard punt return for a touchdown Sunday stands as the second-longest in NFL history. It should stand as the longest, but back in 1994, officials erred in allowing Robert Bailey's 103-yard return for the Los Angeles Rams against New Orleans. Everyone but Bailey appeared to think Tommy Barnhardt's punt had gone out of the end zone for a touchback. So, while the Rams' offensive players and Saints' defensive players walked onto the field, Bailey returned the ball uncontested. League officials later admitted their error, noting that offsetting penalties should have returned the ball to where the infractions occurred, right around the Rams' 15-yard line. There was nothing cheap about Peterson's 99-yarder to beat the St. Louis Rams in overtime. A look back at how it came together:

  • The ball left punter Donnie Jones' foot at the St. Louis 35-yard line.
  • [+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
    AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona is hoping that Patrick Peterson is ready to develop into one of the league's top cornerbacks.
    Peterson positioned himself at the Arizona 10, just outside his left hashmark. Peterson tracked the ball initially, then sneaked a peak at the coverage teams. The Fox hangtime clock read 2.7 seconds at this point. In a split second, Peterson tilted his head upward again to track the ball. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "To do that, with those guys screaming down the field, is very difficult. That's where he is really special."
  • Peterson moved backward and to his left, settling at about the 3-yard line. That is where he appeared to field the ball. The hangtime clock read 4.3 seconds.
  • Peterson had only his right foot on the ground as he fielded the ball. Rams running back Quinn Porter was at the 9-yard line along the yard-line numbers to Peterson's left. Rams fullback Brit Miller was on the same side of the field between the yard-line numbers and the hash at the 15. Dominique Curry, the Rams' best special-teams coverage player, was between the hashes at the 14. Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain was between the hashes at about the 22, with Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson running with him step for step nearer the middle of the field, allowing Johnson to shield Chamberlain from Peterson initially.
  • Cardinals cornerback Richard Marshall made the key block, tossing Curry to the ground back near where Peterson fielded the ball. When Curry rolled over and looked up, Peterson was already at the 6-yard line outside the hash on the other side of the field, where Porter and Miller had chased him.
  • Rams defensive lineman C.J. Ah You had run wide enough to force Peterson back to the middle beginning from about the Arizona 3 just outside the Cardinals' right hash. Ah You overran Peterson.
  • Rams safety James Butler was at the 15-yard line to Peterson's right. He came off his block, but missed Peterson at the 17.
  • Chamberlain caught up to Peterson at the 30 just as Peterson was weaving outside the yard-line numbers to his right. Chamberlain dove, but Peterson wasn't there. Chamberlain collided with teammate Eugene Sims, who was also making a diving attempt at a tackle.
  • Jones, the punter, stood at the 35 obstructing Peterson's path. Peterson was still facing forward at his own 29. With Sims reaching for Peterson's ankles and rolling to propel himself along, Peterson rotated clockwise. His back was to the middle of the field at the 31. He was moving backward when he reached the 34. That is where Jones passed by, flailing like a matador. Peterson was facing the middle of the field as he crossed the 37, giving him a clear view of an onrushing Jake McQuaide, the Rams' snapper. McQuaide was already nearing the 40 outside the hash and had the angle. Peterson continued rotating and was facing forward again by the time he reached the 39. The race was on.
  • McQuaide pulled even with Peterson at the St. Louis 46 and for a moment seemed to be within striking distance. If they had been cars on a two-lane highway, McQuaide would have been the guy in the four-door sedan. Peterson, driving the Ferrari, pulled away quickly and was gone. O'Brien Schofield made sure of it, cutting between McQuaide and Peterson at the St. Louis 30.

The game was over. Peterson had scored a touchdown on a punt return for the third time in his first eight NFL games, an NFL record. Only the Denver Broncos' Rick Upchurch has had more touchdowns on punt returns in the first eight games of any NFL season. He had four in 1976.
Brandon Lloyd's arrival in St. Louis has coincided with Steven Jackson's fuller return to health over the past two weeks.

The offense has gone through quite a transition.

With an assist from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing how playing time has changed for the Rams' skill players over the last two games.

Some of the changes are injury related (Jackson is healthy, Danny Amendola is on injured reserve). Some are roster related (Lloyd added, Mike Sims-Walker subtracted). Some are a little more complicated (Lance Kendricks seeing the field less frequently).

Of course, A.J. Feeley has taken over for the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback. The offensive line has changed since Adam Goldberg replaced an injured Jason Smith at right tackle.

A few quick thoughts:
  • Rookie Greg Salas is getting significantly more playing time. The team successfully targeted him on a fourth-and-2 play against New Orleans on Sunday. He appears to be gaining momentum. Fellow rookie wideout Austin Pettis has seen his playing time fall.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has gained snaps at Kendricks' expense. Kendricks has sometimes struggled with dropped passes, but I haven't figured out for sure why his playing time has diminished. A healthier Hoomanwanui would account for some of the change. The team has run 10 snaps of a grouping with Lloyd, Jackson and all three tight ends.
  • Receiver Danario Alexander was inactive with a hamstring injury against New Orleans. Against Dallas, he played 13 snaps with a group featuring Lloyd, Jackson, Billy Bajema and Hoomanawanui. That five-man combination has played more snaps than any other featuring Lloyd. The runnerup, with 11 snaps, features Brandon Gibson, Kendricks and Salas instead of Bajema, Hoomanawanui and Alexander.
  • Again, this offense remains in transition. We can safely say Lloyd is the focal point at receiver. Salas and Hoomanawanui have been gaining, while Pettis and Kendricks have fallen back some. But the combinations will continue to evolve, particularly once Bradford returns from his high-ankle sprain. Bradford and Kendricks developed a quick connection at training camp.

The chart shows percentages of all offensive plays, whether or not a player was active, sorted by change from the first six weeks.

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Updated: NFC West roided-out rosters

September, 17, 2011
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A few roster-related thoughts after making available for download updated 26-column rosters breaking down players who have spent time on NFC West rosters over the last three-plus seasons:
  • The St. Louis Rams remain the only team in the division with two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Every other team has three. The Rams signed quarterback Tom Brandstater to their practice squad this week. They could always sign him to their 53-man roster if they wanted insurance for Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley. Tight end Billy Bajema would become the emergency quarterback if Bradford and Feeley were the only quarterbacks on the roster, at least until receiver Danny Amendola returns from a dislocated left elbow.
  • The Rams have seven wide receivers, including the injured Amendola and special-teamer Dominique Curry. They also have four tight ends. Those are high numbers for those positions. To find room, the Rams were the only team in the league carrying fewer than eight offensive linemen. They had seven, the number teams generally keep active on game days. The Rams got through practice by carrying two offensive tackles on their practice squad.
  • The Seattle Seahawks were one of three teams in the league carrying more than nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster as the week came to a close. They had 10. With only two tight ends on the roster, the Seahawks have been using unbalanced lines with tackle Tyler Polumbus coming into the game. Signing Eddie Williams as a short-term replacement for injured fullback Michael Robinson led the team to release tight end Dominique Byrd.
  • The Arizona Cardinals were one of two teams carrying only six defensive linemen. They run a 3-4 base defense requiring fewer linemen than a 4-3 would require. Still, the Cardinals were one of only 10 teams carrying fewer than 15 linemen and linebackers. They had 14 and could be without injured starting inside linebacker Daryl Washington on Sunday.
  • The Rams and San Francisco 49ers were among seven teams with balanced rosters: 25 players on offense, 25 on defense.
  • The Rams and Cardinals were among the seven oldest teams in the NFL, not counting specialists. The seven: Pittsburgh, San Diego, New York Jets, Baltimore, Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona.
  • The Seahawks and 49ers were among the eight youngest teams, not counting specialists. The eight: Tampa Bay, Carolina, Seattle, Green Bay, Tennessee, Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco.

The Rams have additional time to adjust their roster for Week 2 because they do not play until Monday night.

Why ex-49er Wragge makes sense for Rams

September, 4, 2011
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Veteran guard Tony Wragge's expected addition to the St. Louis Rams, as reported by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, dovetails with expectations for the team coming out of the exhibition season.

The Rams want to get bigger on their offensive interior. They did that already by signing free agent Harvey Dahl to replace Adam Goldberg in the starting lineup at right guard. The 32-year-old Wragge, listed at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, would give them more power than Hank Fraley offers as a backup to all three interior positions. Wragge started 10 games in 2008, but has not projected as a full-time starter during his career.

Wragge, released by San Francisco, became expendable to the 49ers after the team developed guard/tackle Adam Snyder as a backup center this summer. With Alex Boone developing as the swing tackle, the 49ers felt comfortable proceeding with Snyder and Boone as primary backups on the line.

The Rams' needs along the line changed when the team hired Josh McDaniels as its offensive coordinator. McDaniels has typically valued interior linemen with more power than the Rams have had with Goldberg and Fraley. The Rams wanted more power on the interior anyway.

The Rams kept only eight offensive linemen on their initial reduction to 53 players, one fewer than teams typically keep. They used the additional roster spot to keep a seventh receiver in Dominique Curry, whose value rests solely on special teams. Signing Wragge would call into question Fraley's status.

Rams vice president of player personnel Mike Williams was with the 49ers from 2000-08. The 49ers signed Wragge in 2005. Wragge had been with the Arizona Cardinals previously.

St. Louis Rams cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Surprise move: The situation at wide receiver carried the most intrigue through training camp and the exhibition season. Mardy Gilyard, Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander seemed to have the most to gain, with Mark Clayton's recent signing adding another dynamic. Alexander made it. So did Dominique Curry, a dominant special-teams player last summer until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Gilyard and Avery missed the cut. That surprised me a great deal, given Alexander's injury history, Avery's recent surge and Gilyard's value on special teams. Clayton went onto the reserve/physically unable to perform list, meaning he'll miss the first six games.

Curry is a special-teams player and a receiver in name only. He made the team despite a broken hand. That's a victory for special-teams coach Tom McMahon.

Veteran defensive lineman Dan Muir, signed in free agency, was also among the cuts.

Gilyard was a fourth-round pick in 2010. The team has drafted 16 players in the first four rounds since Steve Spagnuolo became coach. Gilyard is the only one no longer with the team. He has no eligibility for the practice squad after appearing on the game-day roster more than eight times last season (11).

Unknown rookie Ben Guidugli was one of four tight ends to stick on the initial 53-man roster, beating out Fendi Onobun. Guidugli could be providing depth while the team waits to see whether Michael Hoomanawanui is available for Week 1.

No-brainers: The Rams weren't going to cut rookie receivers Greg Salas or Austin Pettis even though neither rookie lit up the preseason. They took precedence over Gilyard, who was selected when the Rams had a different offensive coordinator. Free-agent linebacker Zac Diles became expendable once the Rams added other veterans at the position.

What's next: Depth at cornerback was and is a potential concern. The Rams kept only eight offensive linemen, including veteran backup Adam Goldberg. They could be in the market for an interior offensive lineman with good size and strength. With seven wide receivers on the roster for now, the team has only four running backs. This is the initial 53-man roster, not the final one, however. There will be changes before Week 1, most likely.
Ed from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., appreciates the updates from St. Louis Rams camp, but disagrees with my suggestion that the team should have considered adding Sidney Rice in free agency. Ed considers the Rams' talent at receiver underrated and points to all the bad money spent on receivers in free agency over the years.

Mike Sando: I've had a chance to speak with the Rams' decision makers on this subject since arriving for camp. A few factors were at work in steering the team toward essentially standing pat at the position:
  • The draft: The Rams knew they weren't going to draft one of the first-round talents at the position once the Atlanta Falcons made a huge move up the draft board for Julio Jones. That was fine by the Rams. They were happy to add a pass-rusher.
  • Josh McDaniels: The Rams' new offensive coordinator has valued versatility over narrowly focused dynamic talent for his system (a speed receiver, for example). Does that mean the Rams wouldn't find a way to use such a player? Of course not. But it does make the team less likely to spend lavishly on one in free agency. McDaniels hasn't been begging the Rams for fresh talent at the position. Like Ed, he thought the existing talent was underrated.
  • History lesson: Receivers rely heavily on quarterbacks and offensive systems to get the ball in their hands. The right fit can be elusive when bringing in a receiver from a foreign system. That might help explain why receivers have sometimes struggled to meet expectations after signing lucrative deals in free agency. Sidney Rice was a lower-risk gamble for Seattle because his coordinator in Minnesota, Darrell Bevell, was the Seahawks' new coordinator. There would be strong carryover. Had Rice succeeded under McDaniels in Denver, perhaps the Rams would have approached him differently.
  • Lance Kendricks: The Rams feel as though they found one of the draft's best playmakers for their system when they selected Kendricks from Wisconsin in the second round. So far, the Rams appears to have been right. Kendricks has been the most impressive rookie in camp and an immediate contributor in the preseason. He'll likely rank among the team leaders in receptions.

Hope that helps, Ed. I still think the Rams could have used more talent at the position, but I've also got a better appreciation for your point of view, which the Rams obviously share.

Current Rams receivers: Mike Sims-Walker, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis, Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, Dominique Curry, Greg Mathews, Joe West, Jared Jenkins.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could see the first question coming from the reporters surrounding him following the St. Louis Rams' practice Tuesday.

It had to be about the situation at wide receiver. It was.

Here is what you need to know: The Rams trust McDaniels' system enough to diminish widespread public fears over their injury-riddled, largely unproven group of wideouts. They expect promising rookie tight end Lance Kendricks to play a significant role in the offense. And they're also confident quarterback Sam Bradford can help maximize their receivers' potential.

[+] EnlargeRams receiver Mike Sims-Walker
Scott Rovak/US PRESSWIREThe Rams signed former Jaguars reciever Mike Sims-Walker this offseason and will ask him to play multiple receiver positions.
Still thinking the Rams should have made a play for a dynamic talent such as Sidney Rice? I tend to think so, but the Rams apparently were not interested in paying a premium for a player without a demonstrated record of consistency from year to year. They picked up Mike Sims-Walker at a discount and are asking him to play all three positions, not just the "X" receiver spot he played for Jacksonville in 2010.

"Our philosophy is, we want to do what we should do each week based on the opponent, and that may change," McDaniels said. "We may end up having more guys in the slot from one week and then the next week we don't line up in slot formation at all because that is not really how to beat that team. We have to be flexible so we can attack and put stress on the defense as best we can."

The word "stress" is a McDaniels favorite. He often speaks of stressing defenses, not necessarily stretching them.

Translation: Adding a receiver with track-certified speed isn't a necessity.

Widespread injuries at receiver stressed the Rams last season. The injury report hasn't been very kind to the position during camp, either.

Danny Amendola projects as the Rams' leader in receptions for another season. Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis appear likely to earn roster spots.

Alexander would seemingly figure into the mix if his knees hold up well enough. Donnie Avery has starting potential when healthy, but he missed another practice Tuesday. He missed all 16 games last season after suffering a torn ACL during preseason.

Second-year pro Mardy Gilyard is having a strong camp. He carries value on special teams. But can the Rams trust him to produce consistently while providing the versatility they require?

A few observations on receivers from Tuesday:

  • Alexander's left leg sports a brace extending from his sock up past the bottom of his practice shorts. He has the athletic ability to make spectacular, leaping grabs. But the day-to-day rigors of the position will be tough to weather over time. Alexander, who turned 23 this month, has undergone five surgeries on the knee.
  • Dominique Curry made a one-handed catch during drills. Did he have any choice? Curry, a gifted player on special teams before a knee injury ended his 2010 season, is wearing a protective cast/brace on his left hand. He underwent surgery on the hand this month.
  • Pettis, a third-round choice from Boise State, showed good hands in practice. Salas, a fourth-rounder, was back on the field after resting a knee injury. I didn't notice him as much on this initial visit to Rams camp. My oversight.
  • Avery watched practice wearing a gold Rams cap and long pants.
  • Sims-Walker, who caught 14 touchdown passes for Jacksonville over the past two seasons and was the Jaguars' No. 1 wideout in 2010, missed practice with a groin injury. The Rams need him on the field.
  • Greg Mathews, an undrafted free agent in 2010, caught an intermediate pass, then lost the ball while turning to run.
  • Bradford connected on a deep pass to Gibson. Cornerback Ron Bartell broke up another Bradford pass for Gibson.

It's still early. The position has yet to shake out. Players could and likely will emerge. And there's no question Kendricks' addition at tight end has given the Rams a welcome option. He caught a touchdown pass in his preseason debut and has impressed veteran teammates.

"We've got a lot of guys moving in and out of different spots right now," McDaniels said. "We still got a long way to go and a lot of things to do and a lot of things to evaluate."

Checking in from St. Louis Rams camp

August, 16, 2011
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts between the morning walk-through and full afternoon practice at St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • This will be a productive week. Coach Steve Spagnuolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole, quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson are among those scheduled for availability in the coming days. I had a chance to speak with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Thoughts from them to come.
  • Receivers in focus. The situation at wide receiver stands out as one deserving our attention as camp progresses. Sims-Walker is about as motivated as a player could be after the Jacksonville Jaguars showed no real interest in retaining him. He heads a list featuring Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Danny Amendola among receivers most likely to stick around on the reduction to 53 players. The team still needs to figure out what it has in Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry and the unsigned Mark Clayton -- all players with injury concerns.
  • Changing roster dynamics. The Rams hit free agency hard for role players this offseason. What are the effects, immediate and projected?
  • Uniform code in effect. Walk-through practices don't offer viewers much of substance. The highlight from the Rams' walk-through? It was tough to top Sports Illustrated's Peter King and Rams general manager Billy Devaney showing up wearing the exact -- and I do mean exact -- shade of lavender golf shirts, tucked in and accompanied by matching cargo shorts. It was as though they'd been dressed by the same mother, to the point that players were razzing them. I'll be curious to see if one of them changes before the afternoon session.

The afternoon practice begins at 1:30 p.m. CT (2:30 ET). Please hit the comments section with any ideas or requests you might have. And if you're going to be out at practice, let me know. I'll be the guy not wearing lavender.
NFC West wide receivers are casting longer shadows these days.

Division teams have added three wideouts standing at least 6-foot-3 this offseason, led by Sidney Rice in Seattle and Braylon Edwards in San Francisco.

The NFC West now has more receivers listed at 6-5 than it has listed at 5-10.

Seattle is likely to field the tallest starting tandem, with the 6-5 Mike Williams opposite the 6-3 Rice.

The 49ers are the only team in the division with fewer than four receivers standing taller than 6-1. The St. Louis Rams have five. Arizona and Seattle have four apiece.

I've gone through rosters and broken out NFC West receivers by listed heights:
The chart breaks down NFC West teams by receiver height.

The Rams have eight receivers standing at least 6-1, no surprise given offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' history at the position.

The knee injury receiver Terrell Owens suffered this offseason got me thinking.

Surely the NFL can do more to protect defenseless receivers who are taping shows for VH1 or conducting personal workouts.

At least no one can blame Owens' fate on the helmet-to-helmet collisions that made headlines last season. That discussion led to concerns suggesting receivers could face more damaging hits to their lower bodies as defenders sought to avoid incurring fines with hits to the helmet.

A quick look at higher-profile NFC West injuries suffered at the position does not validate those concerns:
  • Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Houston Texans safety Eugene Wilson hit Fitzgerald low during the exhibition season, leaving the Pro Bowl wideout with an injured knee. This hit, more than any other that left an NFC West wideout injured, fit the profile. Fitzgerald was leaping when he made the reception on the play in question, however. The pass from quarterback Matt Leinart was a little high. Those factors contributed as much or more than Wilson's approach to the play, I thought.
  • Steve Breaston, Cardinals: He underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in September. Breaston has had knee problems in recent seasons. He played at least one game with the injury before undergoing surgery. I do not recall a specific play leading to the injury.
  • Ted Ginn Jr., San Francisco 49ers: The knee injury Ginn suffered against Seattle in the opener looked like a fluke play. Cornerback Kelly Jennings tackled Ginn low because there wasn't another alternative. Jennings was trailing Ginn and had to dive to make the tackle.
  • Dominique Zeigler, 49ers: Zeigler was injured on a special-teams play.
  • Kyle Williams, 49ers: The rookie suffered a turf-toe injury, not the type of injury in question here.
  • Mike Williams, Seahawks: Williams suffered a foot injury against New Orleans, not the type of injury in question here.
  • Deon Butler, Seahawks: No one sought to hit Butler low on this play. Butler got caught in traffic and suffered a freak injury.
  • Mark Clayton, St. Louis Rams: Clayton suffered a torn patellar tendon going after a ball along the sideline. No one hit him low.
  • Donnie Avery, Rams: Avery suffered a torn ACL during the exhibition season after landing awkwardly while trying to make a reception.
  • Mardy Gilyard, Rams: Gilyard underwent surgery for a wrist injury this offseason. The injury had lingered for some time. It wasn't related to getting hit low.
  • Dominique Curry, Rams: Curry suffered a torn ACL while covering a punt in Week 3.

The NFL's emphasis on protecting defenseless receivers from head injuries could still promote other types of injuries, as some have feared. I did not see evidence of that happening in the NFC West last season.
Pierre from Columbia, Mo., wants to know which St. Louis Rams wide receivers will -- or should -- earn rosters spots in 2011. He thinks the team has too many at present.

Mike Sando: Teams generally keep five or six wide receivers on their 53-man rosters. Four is the absolute minimum. Seven is generally the maximum. The Rams kept four on their Week 1 roster in 2009, Steve Spagnuolo's first season. They had six in Week 1 last season.

Danny Amendola appears safe as a slot receiver. Rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas were drafted early enough -- among the first four rounds -- to qualify as likely keepers. They would have to struggle beyond reasonable expectation for the team to risk placing them on waivers before their rookie seasons. Veterans Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton will likely figure into the mix prominently if sufficiently recovered from injuries. Those are the five leading candidates for rosters spots at this point, at least in my view.

I would place Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson and Mardy Gilyard on notice for that sixth spot. But if Dominique Curry bounces back strong from a knee injury, his value on special teams could come into play. The final wide receiver generally must contribute on special teams to justify a roster spot. He almost certainly must do so to factor on the 45-man game-day roster.

The Rams could still pursue a receiver in free agency, affecting the balance.

NFC West injury picture favors Arizona

November, 3, 2010
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Injury trends are following a familiar pattern in the NFC West.

Whether by luck or superior training or whatever the reason might be, the Arizona Cardinals continue to suffer fewer season-ending injuries than other NFC West teams.

Arizona finished the 2008 season with three players on IR. The number was four last season. The team has a division-low two players on IR heading into Week 9 this season. That's nine players in two-plus seasons.

The Seattle Seahawks have eight already this season, including three offensive linemen. The number is seven for the St. Louis Rams, including three wide receivers.

Seattle placed defensive end Red Bryant and left guard Ben Hamilton, both starters, on IR this week.

The first chart shows NFC West IR counts after the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and heading into Week 9 this season. The 2008 totals reflect numbers heading into the divisional playoffs following that season. The 2009 totals reflect numbers when the regular season ended. Teams sometimes remove players from IR through injury settlements and other means.

The second chart breaks down 2010 IR counts by position heading into Week 9.


The third chart takes a team-by-team, player-by-player look at NFC West IR lists heading into Week 9. Asterisks identify projected, potential or actual starters.

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