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Countdown to Camp 2016 - Wide Receivers

Posted Jul 22, 2016

In our third installment of Countdown to Camp, team insider Myles Simmons breaks down Tavon Austin and the Rams' wide receivers.

With the Rams now eight days away from training camp, we continue our Countdown to Camp series by taking a look at the team’s wide receivers. Be sure to submit your question about tomorrow’s position group, cornerbacks, on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Newcomers: Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Paul McRoberts, Marquez North, Nelson Spruce, Duke Williams

If there’s a clear area in which the Rams must improve to be competitive in 2016, it’s the club’s passing game.

Los Angeles did plenty to address the unit over the course of the offseason, beginning with promoting Rob Boras to offensive coordinator and hiring Mike Groh to be the team’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.

Just by observing OTAs, there’s a clear difference in the way Groh runs his drills. He heavily focuses on precise route running and making contested catches. Building that kind of foundation in the offseason program should help the Rams once Week 1 rolls around.

But when it comes to players, head coach Jeff Fisher said at the start of OTAs that Tavon Austin could be headed for a stellar season. With the revamped offense, Fisher told therams.com Austin has a chance to double his catches.

Austin racked up 1,187 all-purpose yards last season and 10 total touchdowns between his receptions, rushes, and punt returns. Heading into his fourth year, he’s mentioned wanting to become more of a vocal leader.

Kenny Britt returns for his third season with the Rams, also an incumbent starter. Still recovering from offseason surgery, he went through rehab drills on the side for much of OTAs. But Fisher said in June he expects everyone to be able to participate once camp begins, which signals good news for Britt.

Last year, the Rutgers product finished No. 2 with 18.9 yards per reception. But he and the offense would undoubtedly like to increase overall production.

Having completed his four-year rookie contract, Brian Quick re-signed with the Rams on a one-year deal in March. Last year, the wideout had to go through the offseason rehabbing his surgically-repaired shoulder, which likely affected his production. Being further removed from the recovery process could help him make an impact offensively in 2016.

Second-year wide receiver Bradley Marquez was mainly a special teams contributor as a rookie, having made the initial 53-man roster as a undrafted free agent. But he also showed strong receiving ability and made his way into the rotation later in the year, making 13 receptions for 88 yards. He continued flashing his good hands during OTAs, and could work his way up the wideout depth chart with more strong performances in the preseason.

As for the rookies, fourth-round pick Pharoh Cooper looked like he belonged during OTAs. He earned reps with the starting unit and made the most of them, showing quickness and explosiveness from the slot. He’s also the type of player who enjoys physicality, which means he may stand out even more once pads come on. Fisher said Cooper has the potential to become a household name. That may happen sooner rather than later if the South Carolina product has an outstanding camp.

Sixth rounder Mike Thomas looked a bit raw at times during OTAs, but his big-play ability is apparent just from watching him. He will likely have to contribute on special teams to make an impact as a rookie.

Others in the mix include Deon Long — who spent time on the Rams’ practice squad last year — and UDFAs Marquez North (Tennessee), Paul McRoberts (Southeast Missouri State), Nelson Spruce (Colorado), and Duke Williams (Auburn). Spruce is the Pac 12 all-time leader in receptions. He’s also a local, having graduated from Westlake High School.

Also of note, Stedman Bailey, who was placed on the non-football injury list in June, has elected to go back to West Virginia to complete his degree and serve as a student assistant coach.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

At this point, it’s kind of hard to predict who will be on the roster and practice squad, simply because we haven’t seen them in pads yet.

That said, between those three, I would give Thomas an edge for the 53-man roster, if for no other reason than he was a draft pick. And as mentioned earlier, Thomas has nice big-play ability that should come in handy sooner or later so long as he picks up the offense well.

Spruce did really impress me in OTAs, as it seemed like he reeled in every catchable pass thrown his way. If there’s a knock on him, it’s that he hasn’t played much special teams. If you’re going to make the 53-man roster as a UDFA, that’s how you’ll need to contribute. But having him on the practice squad could be valuable as a depth piece.

As for Williams, I think it’s important to remember he came in as a tryout player — not even in the initial class of undrafted free agents. If he were to make the practice squad, that would be a significant accomplishment.

We’ll see how it shakes out during camp and the preseason games.

Thanks for your question, Rob. If you’ve got a Q about our next group up, cornerbacks, be sure to send it along via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below. We’ll be back tomorrow to discuss the position led by the franchise tagged Trumaine Johnson.