Returning Receivers Make Presence Felt

Posted Aug 21, 2011

In the on going and closely watched competition taking place at wide receiver, two more names reminded everyone that they are in the mix against the Titans last night.

Coming back from injuries for their preseason debuts, wideouts Donnie Avery and Greg Salas made their presence felt in the second half against Tennessee as both came up with big plays that helped the team scratch its way back for a 17-16 win and also served notice that they will have a lot to say about the way the depth chart shakes out at the position when all is said and done.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo was pleased to see both back, saying Avery’s return was heartening after he missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“I’m really proud of Donnie and happy for him,” Spagnuolo said. “I’d see him in the training room all last year-that’s not easy to do. And it was in a preseason game he got hurt. So he was the entire season, all 16 games. His teammates are celebrating when they win; I’m sure he feels just as bad when we didn’t. And then he has a little setback in training camp, but he bounces back and played the way he did tonight. It was good. Encouraged.”

Although his return wasn’t as long anticipated as Avery’s, Salas missed the preseason opener because of hamstring issues that halted momentum from what had been an impressive first week of training camp.

Making Salas’ late-game play making even more impressive was the fact that he dropped his first opportunity.

“That’s good to see,” Spagnuolo said. “A guy doesn’t stick his head in the sand after he drops his first pass in, really, his first NFL game. He did come back and make a couple plays. We did a good job trying to get the ball to him to get him going a little bit. I did see some good things out of Greg.”

Avery returned to practice in the middle of the week and quickly turned heads with the speed he’s already known for as he made a few big plays in practice.

At the time, Avery said he was looking forward to getting back on the field in a game situation, something he hadn’t done since he injured the knee almost a whole year ago against New England in the preseason.

Avery quickly made the most of his chance, catching his first pass for a 19-yard touchdown and adding another grab for 4 yards.

“Donnie looked great today,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I thought he looked fast. I think I commented on it this week when I talked to you guys on Thursday. I thought he looked fast, he looked quick. He looked back to what everyone told me he was all about, and to see him blow by a guy today for a touchdown, it’s obviously great when you see your receivers doing things like that.”

Salas, meanwhile, started fast in training camp and was running with the first team offense early in camp. But a hamstring injury slowed him and he was just eased back into practice this week, only most of that work came with the third team.

Entering last night’s game in the fourth quarter, Salas dropped a pass that should have gone for a solid gain on his first chance but responded to eat up 25 yards on three catches on the final, game winning drive.

“I was so wide open on that drop, too,” Salad said. “I don’t know, I think I might have been turning before I caught the ball but I knew I was going to get another shot though because of the defense they were playing and I just tried to make the most of my opportunities.”

The battle for roster spots at wide receiver continues to be the preseason’s most hotly contested. With six, maybe seven spots available, things only figure to get tighter moving into the third and fourth exhibition games.

For their part, Avery and Salas are taking the same approach as the rest of the wideouts. It’s a group that become tight-knit in a short period of time and one that doesn’t do anything but root for one another while pushing themselves to get better.

“I don’t look at it like (that competition),” Avery said. “I just look at it like, do my job, play my role, and go out there and be consistent.”
INJURY REPORT: Perhaps nothing is more important in a preseason game than winning the battle against the injury bug.

It certainly seems the Rams did just that against Tennessee as they emerged essentially unscathed.

Spagnuolo said Sunday that there were no major injuries of note though some guys could be held back this week to get to the game against Kansas City.

Cornerback Dionte Dinkins was the only issue that popped up overnight. He has a hyperextended knee.

Defensive tackle Fred Robbins has a bruised back and could be limited or skip practice Monday.

Tackle Rodger Saffold left the game early with some back soreness but he’s expected to be back at least in a limited capacity on Monday.

End Chris Long had what was called minor toe issue but he too is expected to be ready to go this week with the help of some added padding for his shoes. Ditto for guard Randall Hunt (ankle) and tight end Fendi Onobun (dislocated finger).

Defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, who did not play against the Titans because of a back issue, remains the same.

MR. CLUTCH: Last week, kicker Josh Brown stole the show with a four-for-four performance that saw him boot a 60-yard field goal He tacked on three extra points for a night that would have been a fantasy football owner’s dream game for a kicker had it come in the regular season.

Against the Titans, Brown found his workload lightened considerably, kicking only a pair of extra points and three kickoffs before the game’s final seconds.

Brown did his best to stay loose on the sideline as the Rams drove for the potential winning points.

“I think the biggest thing for me was to be there all day long and not to get a whole lot of action, a whole lot of time on the field, and then mentally staying ready with the last seconds on the line,” Brown said. “That’s the practice I was doing tonight, just to stay focused stay in the game, kick a few balls here and there to stay loose, and keep my mind on it.”

The practice paid off as Brown booted the game-winning 42-yard field goal not once, but twice after the Titans called timeout as he was attempting the first try.

TOUGH HOMBRE: There may not have been a busier guy on the field for the Rams last night than receiver/returner/gunner Mardy Gilyard.

Gilyard not only played all of those roles but he played them well and chipped in a few important plays in each discipline.

As a returner, he had a nifty 17-yard punt return and averaged 23.5 yards per kick return, including a 30-yarder.

As a gunner, Gilyard was one of the first down the field time and again and even timed one so well that he dropped the returner for no yards as soon as he caught it.

As a receiver, Gilyard didn’t play much until the game’s closing moments when he caught a key 12-yard pass to set up Brown’s game winning field goal.

“He is a fearless guy,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s been doing that. One punt return was pretty good, pretty nifty. Mardy continues to be impressive and I think that elevates all the receivers and that’s what we want.”