Gilyard Playing Catch Up
Thursday, June 10, 2010
By Nick Wagoner
About 10 minutes after their teammates had cleared the practice fields at the Russell Training Center, rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard remained in place.
The duo that could potentially be the next great passer-receiver combo in Rams history has designs on making their presence felt right away.
“It is nice to have him here,” Bradford said. “Now that he’s here we are going to try to put in as much work as possible. It’s good for us to stay after practice. I am learning, he’s learning and hopefully we can get on the same page.”
While Bradford and Gilyard were pretty much on the same page as the rest of the rookies at April’s rookie minicamp, it’s safe to say Bradford and the rest of the rookie class is a chapter or so ahead of Gilyard at this weekend’s full squad minicamp.
After completing those five practices in April, Gilyard was forced to head back to Cincinnati before returning for this weekend’s minicamp. NCAA rules state that a drafted player must stay with his school until his graduating class has completed its coursework.
There are no exceptions to the rule so even though Gilyard withdrew from classes before the semester to prepare for the draft; he had to return to his school until the time was right.
The time became right Thursday as Gilyard arrived in St. Louis and went through his first practice with the team since May 1. With a little rust on him in terms of his knowledge of the playbook, it was no surprise to see Gilyard working closely with Bradford to try to get up to speed.
“It’s just another tool that I’m using – working with my quarterback – trying to get in and go over more plays,” Gilyard said. “He gives me a small percentage of plays after practice to try to keep me brushed up on what we are doing and keep me in line.”
For the past month-plus, while his teammates have been going through organized team activities leading into this final minicamp, Gilyard has been doing whatever possible to stay up to speed so that he wouldn’t be too far behind on his return.
In Cincinnati, Gilyard says he worked out regularly with current Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros catching passes and running routes so that he could at least try to simulate what he had learned in his short time in St. Louis.
Of course, the Rams did their best to try to keep him on schedule from a distance. They provided Gilyard with pieces of the playbook as well as video for him to study. For conditioning, Gilyard had a regiment he was to follow so that he wouldn’t be grasping for air when he got back for this week’s minicamp.
“There was that going on,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He was lifting and running. You don’t want to come out here having not done anything and then play at the speed of this league.”
For his own little workout twist, Gilyard says he took steps to try to make his daily work as difficult as possible with the idea that if he pushed himself as hard as possible, things would be a bit easier when he got back to St. Louis.
That included doing things that a player wouldn’t have to do much in the NFL like working on catching the ball behind his back and trying to catch balls from the JUGS machine while seated on the ground.
But it’s the mental aspect of the game that Gilyard is hoping to sharpen up. While he was able to work on the route tree, where to line up and details, it’s the little things like breaking the huddle and such that he was missing out on.
And learning an NFL playbook is a monumental task in and of itself.
“That’s it,” Gilyard said. “The catching and the running is the easy part. The playbook is like a phone book, like the Yellow Pages, man. I am about halfway through the thing.”
In an effort to stay as sharp as possible on all things playbook related, Gilyard says he stayed in regular contact with receivers coach Nolan Cromwell and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
While those two coaches were only able to do so much, Gilyard says he was in touch most often with Bradford, picking his brain about things going on with the offense and trying to stay refreshed on the offensive concepts.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” Gilyard said. “I came in behind the bubble but I have no doubt in my mind I am going to catch up. I have a lot of time on my hands to study and mesh with the coaches and picking their brains and just trying to gather everything I can from the vets and the rookies that have been here and just kind of going out and making sure I can stay focused out here while we are out here on the field.”
Although the NCAA rule has cost Gilyard valuable time to learn and improve with his teammates, he has no complaints about the bylaw that has kept him from participating for more than a month.
Gilyard was the victim of an armed robbery not long after returning to Cincinnati but says even that doesn’t affect his opinions on the rules and that he’s “just blessed nobody got hurt.”
Upon his return to the practice field on Thursday morning, Gilyard admitted to a little rust, saying he slipped while running the same route on a few occasions.
For their part, Cromwell and the Rams coaches did what they could to help Gilyard get adjusted. Cromwell even helped Gilyard in the huddle by pointing out where he was supposed to line up for certain plays.
After this weekend’s minicamp wraps up on Saturday, Gilyard will get a few more OTAs and a week or so with the team to try to get as close to caught up as possible.
While Gilyard is quick to acknowledge that he is a bit “behind the bubble,” he’s also confident that with the time allotted and a few more after practice sessions with Bradford, he’ll get where he needs to be.
And he’ll do whatever it takes to get to that place.
“We are out here working because we want to be those guys that help contribute right away,” Gilyard said. “I don’t want to be known as a guy who is just a special teams guy. I want to be a guy that can come in and contribute on special teams as well as offense. I am just going to do whatever coach wants me to do. If they want me to serve water, I’ll serve water. Gatorade, I’ll crack the top. I am just that guy who is trying to come in and contribute the best way I can.”