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Rams Seeing Signs Of Hope

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  • Rams Seeing Signs Of Hope

    Rams seeing signs of hope

    By Jim Thomas

    During a recent interview on the 10th anniversary of the Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV championship team, wide receiver Ricky Proehl relayed an insightful anecdote about the 2009 Rams. You know, the guys with the 1-13 record on a collision course for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

    Proehl did radio analyst work at college football games this season. Inevitably, he ran into Bill Polian, the hard-working president of the Indianapolis Colts.

    "Can you believe how bad the Rams are?" Proehl asked Polian at one of those games.

    According to Proehl, this was Polian's reply: ShopSTL Marketplace

    "Ricky, to be honest with you, Billy Devaney and that coach (Steve Spagnuolo), I know it's hard to believe but I promise you, they are not far away. They've got a lot of young, good players."

    Polian helped build Buffalo into a franchise that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s. He's helped turn the currently unbeaten Colts into an AFC power, and the Super Bowl champs for the 2006 season. So he's got a bit of a track record when it comes to personnel and franchise building.

    Devaney said he got a similar message from Polian after the Colts defeated the Rams 42-6 on Oct. 25.

    "He grabbed me as they were walking off the field," said Devaney, the Rams' general manager. "He grabbed my arm and he said, 'Hey, don't listen to anybody. You guys are doing it the right way. We looked at you all week long (on tape), and you guys are doing it the right way. Stay your course.' "

    Polian is anything but a glad-hander; he wouldn't say anything like that if he didn't mean it.

    "Bill's not one of these lovey-dovey kind of guys," Devaney said. "So that meant something."

    Youth certainly has been served this season at Rams Park. If Spagnuolo said it once, he said it a dozen times to his players during training camp and at the start of the season: Rams Park was the land of opportunity for players seeking playing time or a starting job.

    For a variety of reasons, injuries among them, that has proven to be the case. The Rams might not be winning games. But lots of young players are getting on-the-job training.

    Some, such as wide receiver Laurent Robinson and rookie cornerback Bradley Fletcher, had promising seasons cut short by injury. Others, like wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, were thrown into the water ... because there was no one else.

    Amendola was signed off Philadelphia's practice squad two weeks into the regular season, and after a grand total of three practices with the Rams, was on the field in Game 3 against Green Bay.

    Twelve games later, he's third on the team with 34 catches for 270 yards and a touchdown.

    "Personally, I was just trying to come in and fill a role, and do what I do to try to help the team in any which way," Amendola said. "It's been fun getting in there and what-not. But at the end of the day like anybody else, we wish we could get some more wins under our belt."

    Amendola, who turned 24 last month, has had a bigger impact as a return man. With two games to play, he already has set a franchise record with 1,435 kickoff return yards. Granted, the Rams have given up so many TDs this season that Amendola has gotten plenty of opportunities to add to his yardage total. His 57 kickoff returns are a league high.

    But there's some quality to go with that quantity. Amendola has five kickoff returns longer than 40 yards this season and his average of 25.2 yards per return is 13th-best in the league.

    Gibson didn't join the Rams until Game 7, coming to St. Louis from Philadelphia in the Will Witherspoon trade. Gibson, who didn't play that week against Polian's Colts, since then has 26 catches for 279 yards. Over 16 games, that would translate to 59 catches for 638 yards for Gibson, a rookie from Washington State.

    "I feel like I'm doing OK," Gibson said. "I just want to keep getting better each and every day. I basically have only played half of a season."

    Even if there are no immediate dividends in the won-lost columns, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur feels Amendola and Gibson will benefit in the long run.

    "These game reps are extremely important," Shurmur said. "And they've gone in there and done a good job. Experience in this game is very, very important. And I think as they move forward, they'll be prepared to get even better through the offseason."

    That holds true not just for Amendola and Gibson, but for other youngsters such as quarterback Keith Null, defensive tackle Darell Scott, and cornerbacks Justin King and Danny Gorrer.

    Obviously, the results haven't always been pretty. Witness Gorrer's ill-fated tackle attempt of Houston tight end Joel Dreessen last Sunday.

    "I tried to bring the house down on the big tight end," Gorrer said.

    Instead, the 244-pound Dreessen shrugged off the attempted body slam by the 185-pound Gorrer en route to a 22-yard gain that set up Houston's only TD in a 16-13 Texans victory.

    "I just wish he would've brought the tight end down, and worried about somebody else bringing the house down," defensive coordinator Ken Flajole quipped.

    Such are the lessons of youth. The Rams can only hope that Bill Polian was right.