Tuesday, August 16, 2011
First impressions: A look at Rams' receivers
By Mike Sando
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.
The 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.
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."