Smith No Longer Slowed by Knee

Posted Aug 20, 2012

It’s not that Rams receiver Steve Smith has anything against the team’s athletic trainers or their place of business but if he has his way he won’t be spending much time with them this season.

Only two years ago, Smith was one of the most productive receivers in the league, a genuine Pro Bowler with a big future in front of him. That might seem like ages ago after a knee injury cut short his season in 2010 and the remnants of it persisted into 2011.

That’s why, as this training camp goes on, every day that Smith spends away from the training room and on the practice field is a win, not only for him but for a Rams offense in need of a capable veteran at receiver.

“I know when I am healthy I can make plays,” Smith said. “That’s the whole thing for me, just being healthy and being on the field.”

So far, so good through the opening three weeks of this training camp and back into the spring. Although Smith isn’t above knocking on wood when it’s mentioned, to this point Smith has spent a grand total of zero minutes in the training room for treatment or missed any practice time.

“No, none whatsoever and he’s not in the training room either,” Fisher said. “He’s doing maintenance like most people that have had prior injuries with the knees but he has stayed out of the training room and that’s a good sign for him.”

It’s also a good sign for the Rams offense. With Brandon Gibson out with a leg injury the past two weeks, Smith has ascended to the top of the depth chart and looked much more like the 2009 Pro Bowler than someone who hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Smith had had long looks with the first team offense and though Gibson returned to work on Monday, he still got some reps with the first and second unit. Through two preseason games, Smith has seemed to find a bit of a groove with quarterback Sam Bradford as the pair has connected for three catches for 24 yards.

Still, Smith and Bradford have work to do to get their timing down as they’ve been unable to hit on a pair of deep ball opportunities. 

“It’s big right now, just getting all of the little things down, getting comfortable with each other and working on some of our weaknesses,” Smith said.

It’s helped Smith that he brings plenty of versatility to the table as well. With the Giants, he played in the slot and on the outside and had plenty of success in both roles. In that 2009 season, Smith was a headache for opposing defenses on his way to 107 catches for 1,220 yards.
That season alone would place Smith as the most productive wideout on the Rams current roster and, at just 27; he’s the oldest wideout on the depth chart.

The thought of a healthy Smith returning to form has Fisher salivating at the possibilities that he could turn into one of the great bargains of the offseason.

“Oh gosh, when he was healthy in New York, he went to the Pro Bowl,” Fisher said. “It’s a matter of us creating opportunities for him to get open. He understands the offense. He is a veteran receiver; he understands defenses and concepts so there is a lot ahead of him this year. We expect him to stay healthy.”

Ah, yes, the health issue. Smith does not have some sort of ongoing treatment or strenuous exercise he must do every day to keep the knee healthy.

Instead, Smith has focused mostly on basic day to day maintenance, be it in the weight room with certain lifts or more extensive stretching.

Smith acknowledges that he has to stay on top of the knee to make sure it’s ready to go but he’s reached a point where he can cut it loose on the field without thinking about it. 

“I feel really good,” Smith said.  I feel like I am just improving every day, getting stronger. With me having surgery, I have just got to stay on top of my injury and making sure my knee is OK.”

As for his place in the ongoing battle to form the pecking order at wideout, Smith doesn’t believe anything is set in stone and wants to continue working to secure his place.

“You are only as good as your last performance or your last day of practice,” Smith said. “I have got to come out competitive every day.”

DAVIS UPDATE: Rookie quarterback Austin Davis has showed no fear in his two opportunities to play in the preseason and he impressed again on Saturday night against Kansas City.

Davis finished five-of-seven for 70 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 103.3 but led the Rams on their final scoring drive capped by Daryl Richardson’s 4-yard touchdown run.

Perhaps most impressive was a play late in that drive in which Davis came under fire from a free blitzer, stood tall in the pocket and picked up a hot read to tight end Mike McNeill for a gain of 14. Richardson scored two played later.

“Austin’s making good decisions,” Fisher said. “(He’s) keeping drives alive and the one play he knew he was hot, he got rid of the ball to the tight end and it was just like, ‘bang, bang.’ He’s playing, at times, like an experienced veteran.”

Davis has worked exclusively as the team’s third signal caller in the preseason with Kellen Clemens handling the backup duties. Clemens fared well against the Chiefs, also, going eight-of-10 for 50 yards for a rating of 87.5 and tacking on a 22-yard scramble for a first down.

While it’s certain Bradford will handle the starting duties, it remains to be seen how the depth chart will look behind him. Fisher doesn’t have a hard and fast rule on how many quarterbacks to keep on the final roster, having kept two and three at various points in his coaching career.

“Over the years sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t,” Fisher said. “Sometimes we’ve gone two and one on practice (squad), and sometimes we’ve kept three up. It really depends on the health and age of them.”
NUMBERS GAME: On the current 90-man roster, the Rams are carrying 12 wide receivers and eight tight ends. In relative terms, those two spots are the most crowded spots on the roster which can make it hard to get enough repetitions for everyone.

So far, Fisher said he hasn’t been able to get his wideouts and tight ends the chances they need but vowed that they will before the preseason concludes.

“I’ll say this, at the end of the preseason we will have gotten enough opportunities for everybody,” Fisher said. “After the first two weeks, no, it’s still kind of jumbled a little bit. It has to sort itself out.”

CLOSE TO THE VEST:  In a bit of peculiar preseason oddities, the Rams have allowed three touchdowns in two games from 1 yard out.

On each of those plays, the Colts (twice) and the Chiefs (once) scored relatively easily at the goal line.

Of course, in those situations the defense is up against the wall as it is but still a little more resistance would be the preference of Fisher and the defense.

Fisher said that part of the success opponents are having in that scenario is directly related to the fact that the Rams have been especially diligent in not showing much of their real goal line defensive packages.

“I think that has a lot to do with what you elect to do down there,” Fisher said. “There are other options than what we are using in the preseason. Again, there is a book full of things that we’re not using, and that’s intentional in the preseason. There’s things we’re practicing on the practice field, and that’s really no different than anybody else in the league. Where you get concerned is when you get in the regular season and you’re not effective with it. Then, you have to pay attention to it and if you do and address it, then you’ll get results, but it’s hard for me to say that it’s 11 players on the field. A lot of it has to do with intentional scheme selection in what you’re doing and what you’re not doing.”