Rams Look to Receivers to Fill Void

Posted Oct 13, 2010

Soon after receiver Mark Clayton left last week’s game with a season-ending knee injury, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford turned his attention in the passing game to the other wideout with whom he’d already forged a connection in Danny Amendola.

By the time the game was over, Amendola had been targeted a whopping 19 times, finishing with career highs in catches (12) and yards (95).

Bradford has made a habit of spreading the ball around but in the season’s first five weeks, it had become clear that Clayton and Amendola were his two most reliable targets.

With Clayton going to injured reserve on Tuesday, Amendola and the Rams know that someone is going to have to fill the rather large void left behind.

“Injuries are part of the game,” Amendola said. “We all know that. Unfortunately, we have had a number of injuries at the wide receiver position so far this season and it’s a little bit frustrating but it gives other guys opportunities and I feel like we have guys waiting that are ready to step up and make plays.”

Indeed, it will fall on the wideouts already on the roster to make the strides necessary to replace Clayton’s 23 catches, 306 yards and two touchdowns.

While Rams general manager Billy Devaney was able to find Clayton to replace Donnie Avery after he went down with a season-ending knee injury of his own, such trades are difficult to pull off any time, let alone at this point in the season.

So, the Rams promoted rookie Danario Alexander from the practice squad to the active roster. Alexander has been working through atrophy in his surgically repaired leg and though he was deemed well enough to move to the active roster, he might not yet be ready to play a major role on Sundays.

“He’s excited about doing it,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “We want to make sure he’s OK physically.”

But while the Rams wait for Alexander to get up to speed, they will turn to the remaining receivers on the roster: Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson and Mardy Gilyard to step in and fill the fissure. 

“Trades and all those things, it’s great for fantasy football but it doesn’t always work,” Spagnuolo said. “So you’re always trying to develop the players that are in the program here, and (Wide Receiver Coach) Nolan (Cromwell) has been doing that with all these guys.  Mardy Gilyard has been getting more reps every game.  He’s been getting more touches, and he’s been getting better.  We certainly don’t feel good about losing Mark because he made a lot of plays for us, but we’re going to find a way to overcome that somehow.”

Based on how things have progressed this season, a chunk of that responsibility will remain with Amendola, who has been a consistent presence in the passing game working primarily from the slot.

Through five games, Amendola leads the Rams with 33 receptions and is second in yards with 303. He’s also been a chief target for Bradford on third down, where he is among the league leaders at converting for first downs.

Amendola will likely continue to be used in the slot, where he’s most effective but says he knows the task of replacing Clayton on and off the field will be difficult.

“Mark is a great player,” Amendola said. “It’s a bummer because you can’t replace Mark. He’s such a great player and guy to have in your locker room and your meeting rooms. He’s a leader; he’s a veteran and a professional. He’s tough to replace.”

In terms of the actual lineup, the job of filling in for Clayton will likely fall to Robinson or Gilyard, at least in the interim.

In five games, Gilyard has five catches for 42 yards. He also has the most experience at Clayton’s flanker position but has been working to learn all of the receiver positions, which, combined with his missed time in the spring from NCAA graduation rules and training camp injuries, has been a slower process than he’d hoped.

Still, the Rams turned to Gilyard to handle many of the repetitions against Detroit after Clayton was hurt and will need him even more with Clayton done for the season.

“He’s progressing,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s hard for a rookie to learn them all, but we were kind of forced into that and we’ll just see where he settles in from here on out.”

For his part, Robinson began the season as the starter opposite Clayton but has been hampered by a foot injury that has limited him in practice and even kept him out of practice and games. He has five catches for 33 yards with a touchdown on the season.

“Laurent is just coming off an injury, so he’s kind of fighting that,” Spagnuolo said.

In Robinson’s absences, Gibson has emerged as a potential top target, but says he still needs to be more focused to catch some balls he’s missed as well as continuing to find ways to separate from defenders.

In the past few weeks, Gibson has posted eight catches for 177 yards, a team best 14.6 yards per catch average with a touchdown grab.

After missing time in training camp with a hamstring injury, Gibson appears to settle in more with each passing week.

“Yeah, he gets more and more comfortable with the offense and part of it is, is when he’s out there working with that first group all week long, he’s got all those reps under his belt,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s not like being the backup and having to go in the game when somebody gets hurt.”

Going into the game when someone gets hurt is something that has become all too familiar for a receiver corps that has now lost Clayton, Avery and rookie Dominique Curry for the season to knee injuries.

The turnover at the receiver spots can make it difficult for any quarterback when it comes to timing. Because Bradford worked with both the first and second units during training camp, he has at least some familiarity with all of the wideouts on the active roster.

Still, Spagnuolo readily acknowledges that will be a challenge for his young signal caller as his team prepares to play San Diego on Sunday.

“You’d ask any quarterback in this league, they want to feel comfortable with the guys, that they’re going to be in the same spot,” Spagnuolo said. “More that than anything, that their routes are going to be consistent.  So they’re working on it all the time.  I think Sam’s getting more and more comfortable with the guys.  I’m sure he’ll miss Mark just like we all will, but he’ll just have to get up to speed with some of the other guys.”