Rams Hope Competition Elevates Receivers
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

By the end of the 2009 season, the Rams were down to just one wide receiver on the depth chart that had actually gone through their training camp.

As they go through this year’s version of camp, there are 10, count ‘em 10, wide receivers on the roster. And unlike many positions on many teams where there are at least a few longshots certain to be gone when final cuts are made, there’s 10 receivers who have a legitimate shot to make the final roster.

“We’ve got a lot of young, talented guys there,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “That’s another position where we all kind of think we know how it’s going to look, but we’ll see what happens.”

Entering this camp, the Rams are certainly short on receivers with extensive NFL experience. The longest tenured Rams at the spot are Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton, both of whom are entering their third seasons in the NFL.

Laurent Robinson is entering his fourth year, which makes him the overall dean of Rams receivers. Aside from that trio, there’s Jordan Kent, a special teams ace who is also in his third year.

Danny Amendola, Brooks Foster and Brandon Gibson are entering their second year, though none played all of last season and Foster missed the entire year with an injury.

Then there’s a trio of rookies in Mardy Gilyard, Brandon McRae and Dominique Curry.

With so much youth and plenty of potential in place, the competition at receiver figures to linger well into the preseason and beyond before the Rams can sort out where all the pieces fit.

“We have a lot of young guys in the receiving corps but we also have got a lot of competition,” Robinson said. “We are all trying to make plays to impress the coaches and try to make this team so I am excited about the competition. Every day, every play, every rep we have to go out there and compete hard and make plays.”

Indeed, the intense competition that so far has the Rams regularly rotating the receivers to work with the top units on the offense is precisely what the Rams are counting on to help those players turn their potential into production.

Each player feels a little extra urgency to catch every pass, make every block and go the extra mile to stand out. It’s that competitive level that coach Steve Spagnuolo and receivers coach Nolan Cromwell hope more easily define which of the pass catchers will make the final roster.

“You rely on competition a lot because that is what makes everybody better,” Cromwell said. “An all pro guy doesn’t have competition; most of those guys know what it takes. But you have got to push here. Everybody has got to push each other to get the best out of each other. The key is making sure they challenge each other and stay competitive amongst the group.”

Robinson agrees that competition should only bring out the best and force the cream to rise to the top.

“I think so,” Robinson said. “We have 10 of us out there. If everybody makes plays consistently, it’s going to keep pressuring us to try to make plays every time.”

The task of developing that talent falls on Cromwell, the man who took over the only opening that came up on the Rams’ coaching staff in the offseason.

Cromwell comes to the Rams with plenty of experience having worked with receivers in the NFL for 10 years with Seattle and Green Bay and as the former offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

In that time, Cromwell hasn’t worked with a group as young as the one he now has in St. Louis. But he’s up for the challenge and says the key to developing the group will be making sure they maintain their focus on a daily basis and learning all of the little details that go into playing receiver in the NFL.

“I think just making sure the passion for the game is there and they understand what it is,” Cromwell said. “It’s a passion about competing and playing the game that gives them an opportunity to really set themselves up. Even though it’s a young group, they have to stay focused on the task at hand and what it’s going to take when the regular season gets here. When it comes to regular season, it’s a different thing, the energy level and the competitiveness will be higher and they have to understand that.”

Although camp is only a few days old, there certainly has been no lack of enthusiasm. Last week, Shurmur identified Robinson, Avery and Amendola as the top three guys but said there would be plenty of jockeying for position as camp goes along.

So far, that trio hasn’t let him down. On Tuesday morning, Amendola and Robinson both made impressive diving catches down the sideline as Robinson appears to be fully healthy again and the scrappy Amendola looks even more comfortable in the offense.

Avery added weight in the offseason and has been steady and consistent in the opening salvos of this camp.

Beyond that group, the Rams have plenty to sort out. After spending the first pick of the fourth round on Gilyard, the team is hoping he can emerge as a top play maker. In addition to taking work as a punt and kick returner, Gilyard is getting opportunities in the slot and working hard to establish himself every day.

“I have all the opportunity in the world to just come in and help the best way I can with the team and try my hardest to be a contributor, whether it’s special teams or in the offensive game,” Gilyard said. “But I’m just trying my hardest to contribute the best way that I can.”

Burton brings experience and has been solid in the opening days. Foster had an outstanding offseason program. Kent is a star on special teams and has excellent size.

Last year, Spagnuolo and the Rams kept five receivers coming out of camp. They won’t keep less than that this year and it’s possible they could keep six should enough play makers step in and prove themselves.

The only question that remains is which players will rise to the top when all is said and done. As practices fall off the schedule and preseason games approach, that question will be answered.

“There’s a lot of water that’s got to run under the bridge during the camps and the preseason here, so we’ll see how it plays out,” Shurmur said.