Salas Settling in on the Outside
By Nick Wagoner
Greg Salas had just hauled in his seventh catch of the game and had turned up the field in search of more yards after the catch last November in a game at Arizona.
The catch was pretty much a run of the mill grab but what it symbolized meant far more to the then rookie wideout. See, Salas had been charged with the unenviable task of replacing Danny Amendola as the Rams’ slot receiver after Amendola was lost for the season to an injury in the season opener.
Salas had a rough start in his replacement role, especially struggling in the second game against the Giants which left him inactive for the following two weeks. The benching helped Salas find his confidence and he was coming into his own with some solid performances in the three games prior to the trip to play the Cardinals.
As Salas came down following the catch, he got his leg caught and remained on the ground after the whistle. The result was a broken fibula that ended his season with just six games under his belt.
“It was real frustrating because I did think I was starting to get comfortable in the offense and starting to help the team a little bit,” Salas said. “As soon as it happened, I was very frustrated but you have got to keep your head up and look forward to rehabbing.”
Salas finished his abbreviated rookie season with 27 catches for 264 yards and a lot of what ifs.
But if Salas learned nothing else from the time he did get to play, it was that he was fully capable of playing at the NFL level. He focused on the positives from his time on the field and attacked his rehab with enthusiasm and little patience as he worked his way back to full health.
By the time the Rams stepped on the field for Organized Team Activities and minicamps, Salas had been cleared to practice but he wasn’t quite sure of himself just yet.
“In the first week or two, it was tough getting back and getting into the swing of things of taking a pounding like that,” Salas said.
It took Salas a couple of weeks to begin trusting his legs and cutting it loose but once he did he seemed to get back up to speed pretty quick.
“I feel great,” Salas said. “I feel back to normal and full speed and ready to go. You put the pads on and show the coaches what you can do.”
Of course, what Salas came back to was a much different situation than the one he had left when he was carted off the field back in November.
An entirely new coaching staff, including the new offense of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, was now in place. In addition, the Rams had spent two draft picks on Brian Quick and Chris Givens and signed former Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith.
With Amendola and Smith handling much of the work in the slot position Salas had played for the most part in 2011, Schottenheimer and receivers coach Ray Sherman asked Salas to move to the outside.
Not that Salas had no experience playing on the outside from his college career at Hawaii but he did have a learning curve.
“I’m comfortable playing inside or outside, wherever the coaching staff puts me or thinks I’ll be best at I’ll go with it and run with it so wherever they use me is exactly where I’m going to go,” Salas said.
In the previous offense, Salas had gotten used to being matched up against nickel corners or even the occasional safety or linebacker from his spot in the slot. Along with it, he had grown accustomed to more free releases from the line of scrimmage which allowed him to shake loose on routes a little easier.
On the outside, the responsibilities and techniques are of the utmost importance.
“You have to beat press coverage on the outside,” Salas said. “You are up against corners most of the time out there. It’s just different maneuvering through crowds differently and you really have to win on the outside. It’s definitely technique, getting in and out of breaks. You have a lot more room to wiggle and use your savvy on the inside. On the outside you have got to be more technically sound and learn how to beat defenders and get that separation for the quarterback to squeeze it in.”
In making the adjustment to the outside, Salas has one major advantage that he didn’t have going into his rookie year: a full offseason to learn the position and the offense.
“Oh yeah, it’s 100 percent better,” Salas said. “Having the OTAs and knowing the offense before you even get here for camp is big. Being able to study it before camp, I definitely feel way more comfortable. I’m not nervous; I know what I’m looking for. There’s no doubt.”
As part of a crowded wide receiver position, Salas finds himself in an extremely important training camp. With so many possible permutations for the final roster at the receiver spot, Salas could just as easily end up as a starter as he could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot.
Through the first week of training camp, Salas has been one of the team’s most consistent performers, catching everything and running crisp routes. He might not be a big time, game breaking type of receiver but his route running skills and hands could make him a productive wideout on the outside. And he’s looking at the logjam at receiver as a way to make him better.
“It is competition, it’s going to help everybody out,” Salas said. “It’s a great group of receivers here and everybody is playing so well right now. You have to bring your best every day and things will take care of themselves.”
PUNT RETURNER SETTLED?: The Rams went through a special teams only practice on Wednesday, spending most of that time working on punt coverage and punt return.
Coach Jeff Fisher was asked after the practice whether there was an open competition for the punt returner job after Danny Amendola, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead and others took reps returning punts.
Fisher was pretty open in declaring that Amendola, who has the most experience of the group handling punt returns, was the leader in the clubhouse.
“We know Danny can do it,” Fisher said. “Obviously, we’re looking for a couple back up guys that we can trust to make the decisions.”
EARLY COMPETITION: One spot where there is a lot of competition is at tight end. The Rams have a group of about nine competing for the final roster spots. Many of the tight ends have gotten off to good starts in this camp though there have been some hiccups with drops along the way.
It remains to be seen how many will make the final roster and what the right formula to win a spot will be but for now Fisher is pleased with what he’s seeing at the position.
“We have obviously quite a group there and it’s very competitive,” Fisher said. “(Tight ends) Coach Rob (Boras) is doing a great job with them. They are required to both block and protect and run precise routes. It’s going to be competitive. There are going to be some tough decisions there.”
SECRET WEAPON?: One other minor revelation to come from that special teams practice was a bit of an unknown factor for what Fisher wants to see out of his punter.
With rookie John Hekker competing with Tom Malone for the job, Fisher made note of something Hekker does well that could help tip the scales in his favor.
“He was a conventional punter and a very good athlete and he can throw and that’s a big part of our punt team – his ability to throw,” Fisher said. “It’s just a matter of gaining experience and they’ll gain valuable experience in the preseason.”
Fake punts and special teams trickery were a hallmark of Fisher’s teams in Tennessee so it’s not surprising he’s evaluating more than Hekker’s arm this preseason.