Receiver has shot to boost his role

Monday, August 30, 2010

The season-ending knee injury to Donnie Avery could mean an extra dose of White Chocolate for the Rams' wide receiver corps.

Mardy Gilyard, the free-spirited rookie wideout, has a nickname for just about everybody. And White Chocolate is his moniker for Danny Amendola.

The rest of the wide receivers, Gilyard explains, are sugar cookies. "We bring the sweet portion to the game," he said. "So if you bring one lone chocolate chip, and place it in a single sugar cookie, how much would that chocolate chip stand out? Get my drift?"

Kind of. Although he approves of the nickname, and takes it as a compliment, Amendola shakes his head at the World According to Gilyard.

"Mardy's going to have a TV show I'm pretty sure one of these days," Amendola said. "He's a character. But he definitely can keep the room light, I guess you could say."

In any event, it looks like Amendola gets the first crack at replacing Avery in the starting lineup opposite Laurent Robinson. Amendola already was playing a lot as the slot receiver in three-receiver sets, but this would basically put him on the field for every play on offense.

The Rams didn't make a lot of personnel changes at wide receiver over the offseason. Much of their hope at the position lies in developing young returning players, many of whom got their first taste of extended NFL playing time last season.

Amendola, for one, looks like he has elevated his game from last season, when he caught 43 passes for 326 yards in 14 games. (He was signed off the Philadelphia practice squad Sept. 22.)

"I tell you, he's a competitor," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "He's got a little cut between his fingers so he just wraps it up."

Actually, it's more than a little cut. Amendola needed six stitches to close a cut in the webbing between two fingers on his left hand. His fingers were split catching a fastball from quarterback Sam Bradford against New England. Amendola didn't even know he was hurt until he looked down and noticed one of his receiving gloves was bloody.

"You've got to kind of keep him from hurting himself," Spagnuolo said. "He just wants to go, go, go, which is a good problem to have. I love the way he plays and competes. ... I think it's great for our team, and the other guys see it, too. And I think they feed off of it."

Although he primarily has played the slot during training camp, Amendola learned all the wide receiver positions last year. So he should be able to step right into Avery's flanker spot in two-receiver sets.

The question mark right now is finding that third wide receiver. Gilyard, a fourth-round draft pick from Cincinnati, could get the first crack at the job if he shows he has a good enough grasp on the offense.

Gilyard missed part of the spring practice period because Cincinnati's 2010 senior class didn't graduate until early June. (NFL rule prohibits rookies from participating in spring workouts — other than the post-draft rookie minicamp — until then.)

In addition, Gilyard missed time during training camp because of a nagging wrist injury and missed two practices last week with an illness.

"I think he's behind," Spagnuolo said. "In the volume of the scheme, I do think he's behind. Some of the things that kind of should be smoothed out by now are still not, and that's his — he's a pro now and he's got to iron that out. We're coming up here on 14 days before we play a regular season game, so that's something he's got to work on."

Gilyard missed the preseason opener against Minnesota with the wrist injury. He had four balls thrown to him in Game 2 against Cleveland, but no catches. He had one drop, and on another occasion there appeared to be a timing issue between Bradford and Gilyard and the pass fell incomplete.

Thursday against New England, Gilyard finally caught his first passes of the preseason (three for 23 yards).

Gilyard doesn't dispute the notion that he's behind on the playbook because of the missed time.

"My thought process is a little bit slower than everybody because I'm still trying to figure out stuff on the run," Gilyard said. "I'm getting better ... but I need to grow up fast, in all honesty."

Also are in the mix are Brandon Gibson, who came to the Rams last Oct. 20 in the Will Witherspoon trade, and Keenan Burton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Nov. 15 against New Orleans.

Gibson caught 34 passes for 348 yards in 10 games last season for the Rams, but he missed much of the spring workouts and much of training camp with a hamstring injury. As a result, he has gone from potential top 3, top 4 receiver to someone who appeared to be on the bubble before Avery's injury.

And he may not be in the clear yet. While agreeing that Gibson rallied some with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots, Spagnuolo added: "I think he's still fighting an uphill battle. You lose all that time, it's hard to get it back. So you've got to do something in these games. You've got to do something in practice."

Gibson still isn't totally healthy. When asked after Sunday's practice how the hamstring felt, Gibson replied: "Sore. A little bit."