Injury Creates Opportunity For Receivers
Injury Creates Opportunity for Receivers
Monday, August 10, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
When Donnie Avery went to bed following the Rams’ Friday night scrimmage, there was plenty of optimism about the continuing development of the team’s receiving corps.
With Avery leading the way, that group had just posted a strong showing in the scrimmage and had looked to be much deeper than most people thought.
But as the news broke Sunday afternoon that Avery suffered a fractured fourth metatarsal in his left foot and would miss four to six weeks, the process of developing that depth has become a much more important factor in this year’s preseason and training camp.
“Somebody else has got to step up in his spot,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think there are nine (wideouts) left there and they will all certainly get a lot of work when we get to our three receiver sets. It will require them to get a lot of reps so somebody has to step up and take those reps.”
The loss of Avery for the next month or so is a bit of a blow to a young receiver corps that appeared to be coming into its own in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense. Of course, it’s also a prime opportunity for the aforementioned other receivers to step up and show what they can do.
For now, the task of stepping into Avery’s role will likely fall to the trio of Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson and Tim Carter. In seven on seven drills on Monday morning, Spagnuolo used that group in three receiver sets, working Carter into the slot.
Behind that trio, the Rams also have Derek Stanley, Brooks Foster and Ronald Curry who figure to work their way into the mix on a more regular basis.
Although the Rams don’t necessarily have a star at the position, that also doesn’t mean the receiving group can’t be productive in this offense.
“I don’t think you have to have one big star or two big stars,” receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. “I think there are teams in this league that do very well with receivers that are what we call ‘role players’ and I think it is up to the coaches to put them in the right situations depending on what their strengths are and what the offense plays are designed to do and get them in the right spot and a lot of teams win that way. You complement the run with the pass and I think that is the most important thing. It is not having four or five great receivers on one team, it is improving over the years in the NFL you can win without superstar receivers.”
In his short career, Burton has followed a similar path of Avery. Both were drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft and both created buzz in their first training camps with their ability to make plays down the field.
While Burton doesn’t possess the speed of Avery, he is a pretty polished route runner and has showed the ability to go up and get the ball when it’s put up there for him.
After a difficult spring in which a hamstring injury cost him some valuable organized team activities and minicamp time, Burton got healthy over the summer and has returned to camp on a mission to prove himself.
Injuries affected Burton in his rookie season, too, but he maintains that he has kept a positive outlook the entire time and has remained focus on his goals.
“I never felt that way,” Burton said. “In life there are road blocks but God doesn’t put too much on you that you can’t control or you can’t get through so anything that happens to me good or bad is a blessing. You just have got to come out, rebound from it and stay humble. Humility is big and I definitely think if I stay humble and just keep competing, I will be fine.”
That isn’t to say that Burton was pleased about missing the repetitions but he has come back strong. In Friday night’s scrimmage, Burton made a few impressive catches including a 33-yard grab from quarterback Marc Bulger. On Monday morning, Burton hauled in a jump ball over cornerback Ron Bartell for a touchdown in seven on seven drills.
With Avery out, Burton figures to get plenty of run with the first team. His comfort with the offense has begun to shine through as he seems to come up with an impressive catch or two in every practice.
“I feel very comfortable, very confident about the offense,” Burton said. “It’s a wide receiver friendly offense. You have to get open. That’s the basis of this offense.”
Speaking of comfort with the offense, Robinson has also come on strong of late. Even before Avery’s injury, Robinson was working almost exclusively opposite Avery in two-receiver sets.
After what he calls a “rough start” upon his arrival in St. Louis from Atlanta, Robinson says he has found his groove in training camp and is feeling more and more like himself.
“I think camp is going well,” Robinson said. “I am picking up the playbook very well and I am just getting a lot more comfortable playing and making catches. In the OTA’s, I wasn’t doing so well but now I am just a lot more comfortable and confident so things are going well for me. After the trade, I guess I wasn’t really all focused and stuff. Now I have my focus back and my confidence up and I am ready to play.”
Carter is another Rams receiver who arrived to St. Louis in the spring. Carter came to St. Louis with more experience than many of the receivers on the roster. Known for his speed, Carter is proving to be a more versatile option than was expected on his arrival.
On Monday, Carter found himself working in with the top unit on offense and even getting some repetitions in the slot, a spot he’s played before but didn’t have a ton of experience with.
Carter says he hopes to take advantage of any additional reps he can get in the coming weeks.
“Every day I am on the field, I feel like it’s an opportunity,” Carter said. “Every rep I get that’s an opportunity. Nothing has really changed the way I approach practicing or in the games will be the same. I will try to play at a high level and see what happens from there.”
The good news for the Rams is that though Avery will miss some time, he isn’t likely to miss a large chunk of the season. By the time Avery returns to action, there should be plenty of other wideouts working with a bit more experience than they would have had with Avery still in the lineup.
With veterans such as Curry and Carter around to provide some guidance along with the experienced Baggett running the group, the Rams remain confident that they can make do with Avery out and excel upon his return.
That’s why Spagnuolo said Monday there were no immediate plans to search for any more help from the outside and the Rams will continue to work with what they’ve got.
“If you’ve got a superstar, when we had Randy Moss, if he didn’t play in a game, the next guy had to stand up,” Baggett said. “I think at this level, there is not much difference between the top and the bottom of ability from team to team and there is not much difference in ability position to position in this league because if you’re in the NFL, you can play something. Some of these young guys take it as a challenge when people say you’re not as good as him or you’re not as experienced as him. I think they step up and take it as a challenge. These young kids we’ve got, they have talent. We’ve got some talent. I think they are going to step up.”
Re: Injury Creates Opportunity For Receivers
I am routing for Tim Carter to make the team. I believe he was hosed in NYC