Receiver Competition Just Getting Started
Receiver Competition Just Getting Started
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer
Posted 7 hours ago
There’s not a coach in the NFL that enters training camp hoping that all positions are settled and that competition won’t be abundant during the month-long sprint to filling out the roster.
The belief is that competition breeds success. And for the Rams, there’s no position on the roster that is drawing more eyes in this camp than wide receiver.
Even before camp officially started, coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged that a position that once was thought to be lacking in talent now has the potential to be a strength with more competition than any other spot on the field.
“I’m hoping all the spots are competitive but you just look at the numbers over there and the mixture of talent,” Spagnuolo said. “I think that will be one everybody will be looking at.”
Indeed, the receiver position is already becoming the focal point of the various battles developing in this camp.
While it’s too early to put any kind of handicap on how things are going to play out, it’s not too early to take a look at who the combatants are and what the coaching staff is going to be looking for in its final evaluations.
The majority of the competitors are young and still looking to establish themselves in the league. That makes for a bunch of hungry players willing to do whatever it takes to solidify a spot on the depth chart.
“We have a lot of guys,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “We’ve got some that are more experienced than others. The bottom line is everybody’s hungry and ready to make plays. Everybody wants to be out there, everybody’s competing, it’s fun. That’s when you play your best and that’s when you have the most fun.”
In Spagnuolo’s two seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have generally kept six but sometimes as few as five, wideouts. With Josh McDaniels taking over as offensive coordinator and his penchant for more four and even five receiver formations, it’s possible the Rams could keep as many as seven.
Most likely, that leaves about nine players competing for what should be six or seven spots. Those players are Amendola, Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Dominique Curry, Brandon Gibson, Mardy Gilyard, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Mike Sims-Walker.
Mark Clayton, who played well before a season ending injury last year, is still on the radar pending his recovery from his ailments.
“I think we have a lot of young players that I think have a chance to improve significantly just because this is their second or third year in the league and in some cases have some guys that we are going to have for the first time,” McDaniels said. “I think they have ability and really the test for us is going to be how quickly we can get them up to speed so they can work and be on the same page as the quarterback in the passing game.”
Starting at the top, the Rams are hoping to have one or two guys emerge as the clear cut starters. In looking at experience, Sims-Walker would seem to be a guy that jumps out as someone who could fill that role like he did in Jacksonville.
The Rams signed Sims-Walker with hopes that he can grow in an offense that uses the pass more than Jacksonville and with an ascending quarterback like Sam Bradford.
“That better be everybody’s goal at the receiver position,” Sims-Walker said. “Of course that’s mine and I hope that’s everybody’s position. I mean it’s a job. If you love what you’re doing, you compete at what you’re doing; everybody wants to be the No.1.”
Gibson has taken the bulk of the reps with the first team early in camp and seems dead set on hanging on to the job he held at the end of last season.
Receivers coach Nolan Cromwell says he’d love to see one of his young wideouts emerge as a go-to option but acknowledges that it’d be just fine if everybody could contribute equally.
“Every coach would love to have a Larry Fitzgerald, a Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce,” Cromwell said. “You’d love to have one of those. But if you don’t, then you have to have guys who understand your system and believe in it. I am not saying we don’t have those guys. We may have them on the roster that they just needed time to come forward and step up. Maybe this is the year they do it. If we don’t get anybody else, we can win with the guys we have on our roster. I believe that.”
Coming off a season in which he led the team in all major receiving categories, Amendola figures to only get better in his role working out of the slot in McDaniels’ offense, a role once filled by Wes Welker when McDaniels was in New England.
Amendola remains a favorite target of Bradford’s and seems to be the most comfortable in his role at this point in camp.
Behind the dependable Amendola sits a group of capable and intriguing wild cards that are finding their fit in the offense.
Avery is coming off a knee injury and has been fighting it in camp but also brings a speed element that no other wideout on the roster has. In McDaniels’ offense that could be extremely useful.
Alexander also brings a unique gift in his size and ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. Like Avery, he too has had knee issues he must overcome.
For his part, Curry brings outstanding ability on special teams and a developing receiver skill set. But he too has had injury issues and already suffered a broken hand in camp.
Avery, Curry and Alexander have already missed time in camp. As always, it’ll be hard to make the team watching from the sideline.
“The only thing is, is we have a lot of guys with bumps and bruises so it’s been hard to get them all out there at the same time,” Spagnuolo said. “Hopefully the health thing will come around and we’ll get some real competition.”
Pettis and Salas have different obstacles to overcome in their efforts to fit in on the depth chart. Salas has been bugged by a tight hamstring in camp but as rookies, they are fighting against time and the playbook.
Considering the shortened training camp and practice time, Pettis and Salas have made positive impressions early in camp but will be put to the test when the games start.
Although he isn’t a rookie, Gilyard is in a similar situation because injuries set him back last season.
“We didn’t have OTAs or ways to teach the fundamentals,” Cromwell said. “So how fast are these players going to grasp the new terminology that we are using? A lot of the plays are the same plays but the terminology, how can they transfer it on the field and go with it? That will be the hard part. The evaluation is going to be tough, yeah, but it seems every year to come down to ‘Hey, this guy makes plays and this guy didn’t make as many plays.’ You go with the guy that can make plays. I don’t want to say it’s not that hard because I think it’s going to be hard this year but it weeds itself out.”
With the preseason set to start on Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome against the Colts, the lights will only get brighter for all of the receivers and the competition will only increase.
Cromwell knows the evaluation will be tough and it’s possible the Rams will be forced to let go of a player they really like.
“Make the plays you are supposed to make,” Cromwell said. “I want you to make the great plays and the big plays but just make your plays. Do your job the best you can do it and go. Don’t think about numbers; just play the way you know how to play. I think the group we have; it’s going to be hard for us to cut some people. I think there are going to be opportunities for players we have that maybe don’t make our team. I feel good about the group of players we have.”
One other factor that can’t be overlooked is the expected improvement from Bradford. As a rookie, he showed the ability to make his teammates better. That only figures to increase in his second season.
The competition combined with Bradford’s continued ascent should help separate the haves and have nots as the season approaches.
“I think that’s very true,” Cromwell said. “A good quarterback that steps up and receivers have confidence that if they get open, he’s going to get me the ball and I am going to be able to make the catch. They all believe that in Sam. That showed even last year. We just have got to get open and let Sam throw the ball to us.”
For as confident as the receivers are in Bradford, he has equal belief in them and their ability to get open and make plays.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Bradford said. “I think they’re already a solid group. I think just the competition at that position right now has elevated everyone’s level of play.”
Re: Receiver Competition Just Getting Started
I really want Alexander to succeed. I think he has the most talent, but in a game of inches, the knee trouble is going to get him out of the league quickly. Much the same with Avery. Lets hope there is a diamond in the rough here somewhere, someone with talent AND durability.
I normally think preseason games are pointless foreplay for the average fan, but this year the reciever competetion should make things interesting.