Gordon: No Moss or Burress, but Rams improve at WR
No Moss or Burress, but Rams improve at WR
BY JEFF GORDON STLtoday.com |


Rams fans lobbied for a massive overhaul at wide receiver during the offseason. They campaigned for big-name additions that would push unlikely 2010 hero Danny Amendola back into the supporting cast as a No. 3 or No. 4 target.

They talked about Randy Moss, who retired – for now – when teams didn’t knock down his door. Fans talked about Vikings receiver Sidney Rice, who landed in Seattle with the rival Seahawks.

They talked about colorful Chad Ochocinco, who moved to New England to be with his BFF Bill Belichick. They talked about speedy Steve Breaston, who landed on the other side of Missouri with the Chiefs.

They talked about jailbird Plaxico Burress, the former Giants star that crossed town to joined the Rex Ryan Circus instead.

But when Rams fans ventured out to Rams Park for training camp or Lindenwood for their scrimmage, they noticed that one receiver stood out above the rest.

Danny Amendola. A lot of fans still don't embrace him, since he arrived as an extra guy off another team's roster, but all this guy does is perform.

“Danny has come out here and kind of sparked things,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said after Tuesday’s practice.

He has been head and shoulders above the competition thus far in training camp, despite his slight stature.

He has caught everything thrown and kicked his way. He has looked as quick afoot as ever.

Amendola, the team’s unlikely receiving leader from a year ago, seems determined to keep his top target status. He has been The Man thus far, despite the return of Donnie Avery and the team’s addition of veteran Mike Sims-Walker and rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas.

Injuries have skewed the early results. While Amendola has been flying around, former Mizzou star Danario Alexander has missed practice time while resting his oft-repaired knees.

Avery has also missed time while continuing his comeback from a catastrophic knee injury. Salas has been slowed by a hamstring strain after showing very well early.

Special teams ace Dominique Curry is back practicing with a cast on his broken hand. Mardy Gilyard, a major 2010 rookie flop, left Tuesday’s practice early after developing some vision problems.

Veteran Mark Clayton has been lurking around Rams Park, but he remains an unsigned free agent. He hasn’t fully recovered from last season’s surgical repairs.

With receivers moving in and out of the working mix, the pecking order hasn’t formed behind Amendola just yet.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s clear-cut sailed over anybody else, but I think the whole group is getting better because they’re competing.” Spagnuolo said.

The Rams figured to keep six receivers, plus one more on the practice squad. The Josh McDaniels offense will feature some four- and five-receiver sets, so the Rams will dress more wideouts this season.

Common sense suggests the shifty Amendola, the rangy Sims-Walker and the speedy Avery will lead this group if healthy. Each offers unique skills and relative experience.

The addition of kickoff returner Jerious Norwood could lighten Amendola’s special teams load and keep him fresher for his receiving duties. Sims-Walker adds badly needed size and reliablity for the red zone.

The oft-maligned Avery can stretch defenses when healthy. He's not DeSean Jackson, but he can wheel.

Brandon Gibson showed up ready to compete for work. Early on, anyway, he has shown the consistency often lacking in his game last season. Many Rams have written him off, but he doesn’t look ready to concede his job.

Pettis lost some ground with a so-so scrimmage showing Sunday. The coaching staff has been working him over a bit, teaching him about life in the NFL.

“I kind of pick on Austin because I kind of like him,” Spagnuolo said. “And one thing he has to learn, in practice some of these guys, these young guys, have to learn actually how to practice. It’s full speed all the time and bursts at the end of the little things. He is trying to do that and I think he has done a pretty good job.”

All that is coachspeak for “Pettis better pick up his pace.”

Salas, by contrast, has impressed everybody with his effort and performance . . . when he has been on the field.

Alexander never reached full speed last season, but was still the team’s best receiver for brief stretches. If his legs hold up and he locates his lost step, he will be hard to keep out of the Top 6.

Gilyard took his dismal rookie experience to heart and showed up ready to work. If injuries strike the group and Mardy shows well in preseason play, he could work his way into the mix.

Clayton could still emerge as an X-factor later, if he heals and if Spagnuolo and Co. aren’t satisfied with their group as the season nears. Mark quickly developed a working relationship with Sam Bradford last season, which the staff hasn’t forgotten.

All this adds up to potentially vast receiver improvement in 2011 – despite the lack of a big-name addition.

And Amendola figures to be a big piece of the revamped attack, whether fans want to believe it or not.