By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thursday, Dec. 18 2008
Like many NFL neophytes, Rams wide receiver Donnie Avery hit the rookie wall.
But he's over it now.
"I've climbed over the wall," Avery said. "I can't say I went through it. I had
to spend more time climbing over it."
The climb was painful. That's because a recent MRI exam revealed that the
fractured hip Avery suffered July 28 at training camp in Mequon, Wis., never
"I've still got a cracked hip," Avery said. "It's not healed."
After missing a couple of weeks of practice, Avery returned for the Rams' third
preseason game and has been playing ever since. Avery said he never had an MRI
when he returned in mid-August.
"So I've been playing on it the whole season," he said.
When asked why he came back before the injury was fully healed, Avery said,
"It's more about trying to be a team player. You help the team as much as
possible without, I guess, going overboard and ending your career."
Avery said he got through the discomfort by "psyching" himself up,
concentrating on drills ... "and then, painkillers, too."
Avery doesn't think he made the injury worse by playing on it, and has been
told by team doctors to stay off the hip for eight to 10 weeks once the
season's over to let the hairline fracture finally heal.
Even without the injury, Avery showed all the signs in late November and early
December of hitting the wall. That's the time of year when most college seasons
"People are right. They say the NFL season is long, and there's training camp,
and you play more games (than college)," said Billy Devaney, the Rams'
executive vice president of player personnel. "But it's beyond that.
"Any senior preparing for the draft, they show up in August for their last year
in college, go through all of camp, go through their college season. As soon as
the college season is over, Avery was in the Senior Bowl. They're preparing for
the (scouting) combine, individual workouts. The draft comes. You've got
minicamps two weeks later, all the offseason workouts."
And the NFL season starts. So except for about a three-week period from the end
of spring practices to the start of training camp, NFL rookies are going nearly
nonstop for a year and a half.
"These kids — and I'm talking leaguewide — it is a marathon," Devaney said. "So
they are really worn down."
Keep in mind, Avery isn't the biggest wide receiver around, at 5-11, 184
pounds, making it easier for him to get worn down physically, as well as
Avery's first NFL start came in Game 4 against Buffalo, which turned out to be
Scott Linehan's last game as Rams head coach. Avery scored on a 37-yard run in
that game, beginning a month's worth of big plays.
There was that dramatic 43-yard catch against Washington, setting up the Josh
Brown field goal that gave St. Louis its first victory. Against Dallas, Avery's
42-yard touchdown catch got the Rams off and running in a 34-14 romp.
The next week, he caught passes of 69, 44, and 35 yards, nearly sparking the
Rams to an upset victory over New England. The 69-yarder went for a TD; Avery's
game total of 163 receiving yards was the third-best figure for a rookie in
But opposing teams began to defend Avery differently. His hip started bothering
him. And that rookie wall beckoned.
Since New England, his longest play from scrimmage is a 29-yard reception Nov.
16 at San Francisco. From Nov. 23 through Dec. 7, he had only three catches for
32 yards against Chicago, Miami, and Arizona.
Last Sunday against Seattle, Avery bounced back with six catches for 61 yards
and two reverses for 11 yards. On Wednesday, Avery earned the Carroll
Rosenbloom Award, which goes to the Rams' rookie of the year and is voted on by
players and coaches.
"He's going to be a great player," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "I'd be
surprised if he's not in the Pro Bowl in a couple of years. And I always
mention Keenan (Burton) with him because they're both the same kind of guys.
They work hard. They want to get better."
They're talented. And they're willing to try to play through injuries. Burton,
the Rams' other rookie wide receiver, has been battling knee problems much of
Besides staying healthy, Avery must work on his route running and minimize
mistakes to move up to the elite level of NFL receivers. Throughout the season,
Avery has had trouble with "hot reads" — that is, route adjustments in blitz
situations. There also have been some miscommunications with Bulger on some
routes. But Bulger says Avery is making progress.
"It's just a growing process," Bulger said. "With Isaac (Bruce) and Torry
(Holt), when I came in they were already through that. They were the veterans
and I was the rookie making the mistakes.
"So this is my first time probably in my career where I've had to deal with
younger guys and getting through those growing pains. So it's a process. It's
not going to happen overnight. It can be frustrating at times, but they've come
a long way from where they were in the spring."