Rams Look for Receivers to Step Up

Posted Oct 10, 2012

Replacing an offensive cog as important to the Rams as wideout Danny Amendola is a big ask of any team.

The Rams found out the hard way when they lost Amendola to an elbow injury in the 2011 season opener. It was a loss they never quite overcame.

Fortunately, the shoulder injury Amendola suffered against Arizona last week doesn’t appear to be season-threatening. Although coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t want to put a timetable on Amendola’s return, it does seem certain there at least will be a return.

“It’s like anything else, whenever you’ve got an injury, someone else has to step up,” Fisher said. “Often times it’s more than just one person so we are expecting the entire group to step up and I would include the tight ends as well. Guys will step in and there’s flexibility at the receiver position so we’ll be able to inter change different guys at that spot.”

Before delving into the potential replacements or fill ins for quarterback Sam Bradford’s favorite target, it’s important to note just what the Rams will be missing in the short term. Through five weeks, Amendola ranked among the league leaders with 32 catches for 395 yards and two scores and was well on his way to his best season as a pro.

In addition to his receiving production, Amendola brought a fiery, hard nosed leadership style to a young group of wideouts that includes the likes of Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Steve Smith, Brandon Gibson and Austin Pettis.

It’s that same group of wideouts that will now be charged with the task of trying to replicate Amendola’s production.

“He’s a big part of this team, he’s a great guy, it’s definitely a big loss,” Pettis said. “As an offense as a whole and especially in the receiver room, we have got a lot of slack to pick up. I think we’ll spread it around and be successful.”

Through five weeks and really in his three year association with Bradford, Amendola has provided a constant sense of security, working the slot and trolling for first downs. This year, Amendola had become more dangerous than ever, developing more skills down the field and coming up with some big plays.

Without Amendola, Bradford will have to establish an even better rapport with the wideouts. On the bright side, Bradford believes he is working with a group equipped to fill the void as well as possible.

“I said this earlier this year: I think this is the deepest we’ve ever been at that position,” Bradford said. “I think there’s been great competition all year at that position. Those guys have continued to get better from the day the season started. I feel really good about where we are right now.”

In the Rams basic two-receiver sets, they have generally gone with the duo of Gibson and Amendola on the outside though the rest have all cycled through in a rotation with Gibson. Subtracting Amendola from that personnel package would seem to put the onus on Givens.

Givens has seen his role increase in the past few weeks, essentially playing starters minutes and snaps against Arizona and Seattle. He caught his first career touchdown against the Cardinals and has made a catch for 50-plus yards in each of the past two weeks.

For his part, Givens isn’t making any pretense that he’ll be able to do all the things Amendola can but he also acknowledges that he and his fellow wideouts have something to prove.

“We do,” Givens said. “We have got to prove to the coaches that we can do it without Danny as well as with Danny. We are just going to go out here and continue to work hard and just try to be the best group we can be on Sunday.”

One way the Rams have insured themselves is by having their receivers learn all three positions. That type of versatility means they should be able to mix and match any trio or even quartet of wideouts they choose against Miami.

Soon after arriving in St. Louis, receivers are asked to brush up on both outside positions as well as the slot.

“Everybody can play every position,” Givens said. “That’s one thing the coaches require is just to know every position. That’s what we do. We go out there and execute no matter what position you are in.”

Amendola also played every position but was perhaps at his best and most dangerous in the slot. It’s there that his presence might be missed the most, especially on third down.

The Rams have carried six receivers on the roster the past few weeks but only five have been active on game days. With the intent to get Givens and Quick up to speed and Pettis back from a suspension, the oldest member of the group, Smith, has found himself on the outside looking in on game days.

Smith hasn’t let his inactivity bother him and has served as a valuable scout team player the past two weeks, according to Fisher.

“(He’s handled it) like a pro, worked in, changed his role to give the defense the best look he possibly could,” Fisher said. “He even continued with that today. I didn’t expect him to like it. He understood and he understands patience. Unfortunately through injury, he’s been given another opportunity.”

The soft-spoken Smith seems a natural fit to step into a familiar slot role, the role he enjoyed his greatest career success with in New York.

Working mostly on the inside for the Giants, Smith had 107 catches for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. Since coming to St. Louis in free agency, Smith started the first two games and made five catches for 70 yards but had been working more on the outside. 

“Danny going down just opens the door, gives an opportunity to some of our other receivers to step up and make plays,” Bradford said. “I think Steve Smith is a tremendous inside receiver. I look for him to take advantage of this opportunity. And then the young guys as well. Danny caught a lot of balls, was involved in a lot of our passing game. Those balls, they have to go somewhere. I think whoever steps up; plays at a high level will start to see their productivity increase.”

Smith, who himself has dealt with injury issues in recent seasons, is no stranger to the concept of stepping in and helping out when it’s time for the next man up.

“It’s part of the game,” Smith said. “Every year is different and you have just got to come here every day to work. I’ve been in (the offense) since camp. I know it pretty well. I know all of the positions so I’ll be ready to go.”

Pettis also figures prominently in the plans to help out in the slot position. It’s been a mixed bag for Pettis so far in 2012 as he’s played a little bit of everything since returning from a suspension in week 3.

But Pettis stepped in for Amendola in the slot in 2011 and is also used to having to fill in, even in the specific case of stepping in for Amendola. He doesn’t really care much where he steps in so long as he gets the opportunity.

“It’s all pretty much the same to me,” Pettis said. “It’s really just feeling comfortable with the plays inside or outside. It doesn’t really matter. I feel like I know where I’m supposed to be at all of the positions so it’s just a matter of getting out there and getting more of those same reps.”