Rookie is quick study
BY JIM THOMAS
As Brandon Gibson made one catch after another Sunday against New Orleans, the collective thought throughout Rams Nation must have gone something like this: "OK, now we know why they traded for this guy."
With fewer than a dozen practices under his belt since being acquired from Philadelphia in the Will Witherspoon trade, Gibson posted the most receptions (seven) for a Rams wide receiver and the most reception yards (93) for any Rams player this season.
Gibson, a rookie from Washington State, is the first to admit he was nervous against the Saints. At the same time, he exudes confidence, although not in a cocky way.
"Some people know what I'm capable of," Gibson said. "But there were probably a lot of people who haven't seen me play. I guess I kind of gave people a taste, and they're going to have high expectations. That's fine. I just want to go out there and be consistent, make sure I catch the ball and always attack and play at a high level."
Some of Gibson's new teammates saw something in him in just the first few weeks of practice. Left guard Jacob Bell, for example, said it was
obvious from the get-go that Gibson was a hungry player, and a player who had high expectations for himself.
"I think that started in Philadelphia," Gibson said. "Because when you go out there, you've got DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Brown, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett, Kevin Curtis, Danny Amendola."
In short, the Eagles were stacked at wide receiver at the start of this season. (Amendola is now a Ram; Baskett is with Indianapolis.)
"We were out there, and we all were fighting (for playing time)," Gibson said. "We all wanted to get better. And you learn from situations like that. So practice is where it starts. You can set yourself apart in practice, and then it becomes easier in the games."
An Army brat, Gibson was born in Germany and then attended high school in Puyallup, Wash., the hometown of former Rams wideout Dane Looker. Gibson stayed in-state for college and by his junior season at Washington State had blossomed into an All-Pacific 10 Conference performer (and a third-team All-American) with a school-record 1,180 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Gibson almost certainly would've been a first-day selection in the 2008 draft, but he decided to return for his senior season at Washington State.
"You're only a senior once," Gibson said. "Even though I had a big junior year, I was excited about coming back and thought that I could even get better. I didn't feel like I was ready to take my game to the NFL level."
But with a new head coach and a new offensive scheme, Gibson wasn't nearly as effective as a senior. The Cougars tumbled to 2-11 and Gibson finished with modest totals of 57 catches for 673 yards.
"We were kind of young at some spots," Gibson said. "The (offensive) line was partially new. I went through five different quarterbacks. I didn't play to the best of my abilities, which was frustrating because I know what type of player I am and I know what I can do."
In the 2009 draft, he tumbled all the way to the sixth round, No. 194 overall, before being selected by the Eagles.
"I thought I should've went sooner," Gibson said. "But things worked out."
Even though he couldn't crack the deep Philly receiver corps — he played in only one game before the trade — Gibson made an impression during the preseason and then on the practice field once the regular season started.
"If I'm taking scout team reps, I don't want to go out there and just run around and not help myself," Gibson said. "That's just a wasted rep. The biggest thing is trying to get yourself better each and every rep. I wanted to take advantage of that situation, and I think I did well."
Injuries caused the Eagles to be in need of a linebacker and the Rams to be looking for a wide receiver, which brought Gibson to St. Louis on Oct. 20 (along with a 2010 fifth-round draft pick). As a Ram, he had seen only spot duty against Detroit until Keenan Burton suffered a season-ending knee injury against New Orleans.
Against the Saints, Gibson showed enough size (6-0, 210) to outmuscle defenders for yards after catch, while also displaying some elusiveness. Gibson has seven more games to show the Rams' front office and coaching staff that he can be an impact player in 2010 and beyond.
While it appears that finding a No. 1-type receiver will remain a major offseason priority, Gibson, Donnie Avery, Danny Amendola and even little-used Ruvell Martin can convince general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo otherwise between now and January. Keep in mind that Laurent Robinson, Burton and Brooks Foster — all currently on the injured reserve list — will be part of the equation next season, too. For his part, Gibson is ready to stake his claim.
"They made the trade for a reason," Gibson said. "They feel like I've got some talent, and they can use me here."
Receiver signs — Wide receiver Jordan Kent has been signed to Burton's spot on the active roster. Kent (6-4, 219) was in training camp with Seattle this summer and was a sixth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2007.