Avery Ready to Make an Impact
Thursday, September 25, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
Watching as fellow rookie wideouts around the league make a first impression – good or bad – in the first three games, Donnie Avery couldn’t help but wonder when his time would come.
For every big play or boneheaded play made by Philadelphia ’s DeSean Jackson, Avery made note and hoped for his time to arrive.
After three games of patiently working through a knee injury and working in limited duty, the time is now.
Coach Scott Linehan named Avery the starter at the ‘Z’ receiver position on Wednesday and Avery will get his first career NFL start on Sunday against Buffalo.
“I’m very excited,” Avery said. “I finally get to go out there and just have fun from the start. I don’t have to wait on the sidelines to get my opportunity.”
When the Rams used the second pick of the second round to make Avery the first receiver taken in this year’s NFL Draft, they had hoped he could work behind starter Torry Holt and occasionally chip in as the third receiver.
But injuries to Drew Bennett and fellow rookie Keenan Burton are out this week and the Rams offense is searching for a spark. When the Rams drafted Avery, they touted his game breaking speed.
With that in mind, they are turning to Avery to inject that youth and speed into the offense.
“That’s what everybody expects when they get drafted,” Avery said. “They want to get out on the field and start. That’s my goal. It’s sad to say people had to get hurt for me to get up there but that’s how it goes.”
Avery was inactive in the opener against Philadelphia because of a knee injury that came on the heels of his return from a pelvic bone injury suffered early in training camp.
Against New York in week 2, Avery played a little at receiver and returned a kick for 21 yards. Finally, last week against Seattle , Avery got his chance to work in at receiver, catching three passes for 24 yards.
“He wants to get on the field and show what he can do,” coach Scott Linehan said. “I just want him to relax and play and use that speed.”
The transition to a starter in the NFL from leading receiver for the Houston Cougars has not been an easy one.
In addition to the pressures of being the first wide out taken, Avery is dealing with plenty of new things.
For one, Houston never had an actual playbook in any of Avery’s time there. The playbook was nonexistent and Avery could move all over the field and get the ball in any given scenario.
Contrast the lack of a playbook to a playbook that Avery compares to a phone directory and one could see how a rookie receiver in offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ system might have his head spinning early and often with confusion.
Compounding matters was a recent position change that has slowed Avery’s ability to contribute right away.
Soon after arrival, the Rams decided Avery should learn the ‘X’ receiver position behind Holt. When injuries struck and the team realized it needed to add Avery’s element of speed, he moved to the ‘Z’ position, the spot he will start on Sunday.
Although it’s not a terribly difficult move – he essentially has to learn the play calls backward to recognize which route is his in the play call – there still is plenty of thinking that goes into it.
In last week’s game against Seattle , quarterback Marc Bulger had to help Avery get lined up right and remind him of where to be on a given play.
Other subtle differences between the wide out positions exist, such as the ‘Z’ receiver is generally lined up off the line off scrimmage where the ‘X’ receiver is on it.
After a little time at his new spot last week, Avery is getting most of the work at the ‘Z’ this week in practice.
“When you’re able to practice there and last week he got a lot of reps at ‘Z’, so he’s been able to work there full time this week and the more you work at anything you get more comfortable with it,” Linehan said. “He hasn’t had any issues as far as that goes.”
Make no mistake; Avery is taking his newfound starting duties serious. He spent an extra 30 minutes or so after Thursday’s practice catching passes from Brock Berlin and fine tuning his route running.
Avery has also spent extra time picking the brain of accomplished veterans Holt and Eddie Kennison, doing anything he can to ensure he can make a difference against the Bills.
“My first reaction was I have to go out there and step up and play like I have been here for a while and just go out there and do my thing,” Avery said.
Avery isn’t making a big deal about his start, though. He only has one extra friend in town for this weekend’s game, his friend Ron Swinton, a Navy man who arrived in St. Louis from where he’s stationed in Virginia on Thursday afternoon.
So, with his friend in town and his first real opportunity to play Sunday, what can Rams fans expect should he be fortunate enough to score?
Avery says he is planning an intricate dance move if he finds the end zone but promises he will ensure the ball crosses the goal line before any celebration ensues.
As far as Avery can tell from some of the success other rookies are having around the league, it’s due time for him to join in the fun.
“I do look at some of the highlights and stuff,” Avery said. “I know they are out there doing their thing. That’s motivation for me. Young guys coming in, doing our thing, that’s a lot of motivation. That helps me.”
Re: Avery Ready to Make an Impact
I like his confidence and attitude. If he keeps the good job going, keep Bennett on the bench and start Avery. He's got the speed we used to have in Kevin Curtis. I'm excited to watch the stats on this weekend because I can't watch the game.
Re: Avery Ready to Make an Impact
I knew there was some reason I was excited about this game, but I couldnt think of it. We get to see what Avery can do.