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    Avery Embraces All Roles

    Avery Embraces All Roles
    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    The ball seemed to hang in the air forever and a day and for every tick that went by before it landed, an entire stadium and two sidelines full of football players held their breath as though the simple act of breathing would somehow alter the ball’s final destination.

    Rams receiver Donnie Avery ran a simple ‘9’ route, using his blazing speed to get deep in the Redskins secondary. Earlier in the game, he’d run the same route but failed to adjust to a pass that was slightly underthrown.

    This time, Avery knew exactly what to do. As the pass floated down the right sideline, Avery stopped his sprint cold, turned back toward the ball and dived to his left to haul in a 43-yard pass to Washington’s 16.

    It was a play that would ultimately spark the Rams to their first win in 2008 and the one that let the rest of the football world know that Avery was soon to be a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.

    It’s been almost a year since Avery made that play and a lot has changed since then. So much, in fact, that Avery has essentially put one of the first big plays of his young NFL career out of his mind.

    “That was last year,” Avery said. “Now, we have got to make some 2009 memories.”

    When Avery made that catch last season, he was viewed as a speedster with plenty of potential but he wasn’t considered one of the team’s top targets. When the Rams return to the scene of the crime at FedEx Field in Washington D.C. on Sunday, Avery will come widely regarded as one of, if not the, team’s top receiving option.

    Since then, the Rams have said goodbye to the likes of Torry Holt, Drew Bennett and Dane Looker. Avery has ascended the depth chart under new coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur based on a combination of speed, improved route running ability and a work ethic that has impressed the coaching staff.

    “I’m going to tell you what, he’s one of the harder working guys we’ve got, one of the hardest working guys,” Spagnuolo said. “He is always doing that, whether it’s special teams, whether it’s running a route, whether it’s doing extra conditioning when he was hurt…I have got a lot of respect for him. I think he’s exactly what you need on your team.”

    Avery’s big game in the nation’s capital was the opening act to a month in which he would burst on the scene to earn a nomination for NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month.

    The following week against Dallas, Avery posted his first receiving touchdown on a 42-yard grab and he followed that with a career-best 163 yards on six catches against New England on Oct. 26.

    All told, Avery had 14 catches for 291 yards in the month and served notice to the NFL that he would need to be accounted for in the passing game.

    Despite that breakthrough, Avery says he never questioned his ability to compete at the game’s highest level.

    “I knew I could play when I first got drafted to this league, going to OTAs and minicamps and stuff like that,” Avery said. “It wasn’t anything but just making plays.”

    Avery made enough plays that he was able to earn a starting position in this offseason and he says he spent his offseason working to refine his route running and soften his hands.

    With a new coaching staff in place, Avery made a strong first impression with more than just his speed.

    “I think Donnie’s a hard worker,” Shurmur said. “He’s a smart football player and he understands how to play the game. All those things matched with his great ability are going to make him a great for a long time.”

    All was going according to plan for Avery, who had adopted a leadership role of sorts among the team’s young receiving corps during the offseason program, until he suffered a broken foot during the team’s scrimmage at Lindenwood University on Aug. 7.

    That setback did nothing to quell Avery’s desire to improve, though. Originally diagnosed as a four-to-six week injury, Avery was back on the field in only a few weeks and would have been back out sooner had it been up to him.

    Champing at the bit to get back on the field, Avery even played a few plays in the preseason finale against Kansas City when many originally had him targeted for a return maybe as late as this week against Washington.

    Despite the injury, Avery remained confident in both his ability and his spot on the team but he also acknowledges that he’s just scratching the surface on his immense potential.

    “I have still got a ways to go,” Avery said. “It’s my second year, second time around. They gave me the role so it’s my time to step up and go with that role.”

    Avery’s role has expanded some in 2009, as well. On the opening kickoff last week, Avery was the one tasked with the job of returning the kick.

    Avery has no fear about taking on the kick return load again this week if he is called upon. It’s that confidence in his abilities that would give the coaches no pause about using him in any situation.

    “(He’s) very confident, but there’s a fine line between that cockiness and confidence and I think he understands what that line is,” Shurmur said. “He goes out there and plays hard. He trusts his ability, but yet he doesn’t become overconfident (because that’s) when you get sloppy.”

  2. #2
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    Re: Avery Embraces All Roles

    Avery needs to work on 'embracing' the freaking ball. He is very loose with that rock, but I like his hands. If he is really going to return kicks, I will be holding my breath every time.
    A defeated look of consternation, dissappointment, or even pain. The name derives from the look one often gets when challenged by a large BM.

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