Rams' wide receivers remain bunched up

2011-08-10T00:15:00Z 2011-08-24T11:57:20Z Rams' wide receivers remain bunched upBY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

The sorting process will run its course eventually, but nearly two weeks into training camp not much separation has occurred at the wide receiver position.

"I honestly would have to say no," coach Steve Spagnuolo said following Tuesday's practice at Rams Park. "Of course, Danny (Amendola) has come out here and kind of sparked things.

"But with guys being banged up, we've got some guys not out there running. I don't know if there's anybody that's clear-cut sailed over anybody else. But I think the whole group is getting better because they're competing."

The Rams currently have 11 wide receivers in camp, with six likely to make the final roster. But other than Amendola, who led the Rams in receptions (85) and reception yards (689) a year ago, and free-agent pickup Mike Sims-Walker, are there any roster locks at wide receiver?

Brandon Gibson? Maybe. He has been running with the starting unit throughout camp so far. His improved attitude and work ethic seemed to win Spagnuolo over late last season and apparently have carried over into 2011.

Rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas? Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drafted them for a reason, so unless they're injured or absolutely terrible in the preseason, they figure to have a roster spot. After a strong first week of practice, Salas has missed the past few days with a hamstring injury (not a knee injury as previously reported).

Donnie Avery has been held out of practice for the last few days — including Tuesday — as he attempts to come back from knee surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2010 regular season. The Rams' training and medical staff has decided to back him off for a while as he works his way back to 100 percent.

Danario Alexander returned to practice Tuesday after missing several days with swelling in his left knee. "A little swelling; it's going to do that," Alexander said. "It's my first time going through a (full) training camp. So it's just a lot of pounding and stuff like that — it just swells up on me a little bit."

Mardy Gilyard rounds out the top eight. After a disappointing first year, he has gotten off to a good start in this camp. He was working with the starting unit as the slot receiver during the period in which Amendola — as a veteran signing a new contract — couldn't practice. But Gilyard couldn't finish Tuesday, being helped off by head athletic trainer Reggie Scott near the end of practice.

"I think Reggie said Mardy was having trouble seeing," Spagnuolo said. "When I say that, sometimes the sun — and I don't know if it's migraines or what it is — but that's what he told us. That's why I sent him in."

Rounding out the camp roster are Dominique Curry, Joe West and Greg Mathews. Curry made the roster a year ago as a rookie free agent, in part because of his special teams ability. But in the same 2010 game that he blocked a field goal (Game 3 against Washington), he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Winning a final roster spot may come down to which wideouts stay healthy and which produce in the preseason starting with Saturday's home game against Indianapolis. Spagnuolo wants to see more than just receptions.

"A good feel and a good grasp for the offense," Spagnuolo said. "Getting in and out of the huddle. We've been putting the offense on a play clock periodically in practice, but you get in the game and all of a sudden things speed up. So there's going to be some fast thinking out there."

Particularly with a new offense. Even Amendola says, "I'm making mistakes. But at the same time, I'm learning a lot and making progress with this new offense. It's 100 percent different. Everything's different from last year. So everybody, we're just trying to get it down, trying to progress as weeks go by."

Because of the new offense, Amendola is hoping for as much work as possible in preseason play. If that's the case for the pass-catchers at the top of the depth chart, it may make it more difficult for those on the bubble to show their stuff.

The Rams still might not have a true No. 1 wide receiver, but they've got enough 2s and 3s to make this the deepest corps they've had in training camp in several years.

"Absolutely," Amendola said. "I feel like everybody's hungry to make plays; everybody's eager to be out there."

"It just makes for great competition," Salas said. "It makes everybody step their game up a little bit more."

Alexander, who was working with the starters this camp before the swelling in his knee, is taking nothing for granted.

"It's a lot of competition out here," Alexander said. "None of our jobs are secure. We've just got to come out and produce every day."

When all is said and done there could be another name in the mix — Mark Clayton. Clayton, still in the rehab process from knee surgery last season, visited Rams Park on Tuesday to meet with Spagnuolo and trainer Scott.

"Mark's not there yet physically," Spagnuolo said. "We're in constant contact. Probably at some point next week, I think it'll be next week, he'll take another one of those Cybex tests, see how strong the leg is. What I talked with Mark about (Tuesday) was our concern for him. We certainly don't want to put him out on the field if he's not completely ready."

But the Rams remain very interested in re-signing Clayton, who's a free agent.

"Oh, yeah," Spagnuolo said. "We just want him to get healthy, and there's no way to know right now when that's going to be. Game ready I'm talking about. So, we'll see."

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