In three seasons at West Virginia University, Stedman Bailey caught 210 passes, including 114 for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns last season alone.
In four games with the Rams, the rookie wide receiver has yet to have a pass thrown his way — at least not by a quarterback. Bailey’s only chance to catch a pass came last Sunday in Dallas on a fake punt early in the first quarter.
“It actually felt good just to get an opportunity to catch a ball,” Bailey said. “We really didn’t execute it the way we wanted to.”
Lined up as a gunner on the outside of punt formation, Bailey ran a pass route over the middle but punter Johnny Hekker had to pump fake because Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware was in his face. That threw off the timing of the play and Hekker’s pass was high and incomplete.
“If he was able to hit me when I made my move to come out of my break, it probably would’ve been a big play, you know, first down for sure,” Bailey said.
Instead it was a missed opportunity in what has been a season of missed opportunities so far for the 1-3 Rams.
“We’ll work on it and get it right next time,” Bailey said.
Just when Bailey gets a “next time” to catch a football remains to be seen. Through four games, the third-round draft pick has been on the field for only four plays with the offense — all against Atlanta in Game 2. Bailey wasn’t targeted on any of those four plays.
Otherwise, he has been used exclusively on special teams this season. The Rams kept only five wide receivers on their 53-man roster heading into the season, the so-called “Big Five” of Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick and Bailey. During the preseason, coach Jeff Fisher said on a couple of occasions that all five would play.
But that hasn’t happened to this point as far as Bailey is concerned. Earlier this month Fisher was asked if he wanted to get Bailey more involved.
“From an offensive standpoint, yes of course,” Fisher said. “He’ll get his opportunity. But he’s really done a nice job on special teams for us. He’s playing on two or three of the (special) teams and he’s making plays for us. So it’s good to see.”
Bailey has participated in 59 special teams play so far this season, or an average of about 15 a game. But you don’t draft a player in the third round, No. 92 overall, just to run down punts and kickoffs.
“It’s hard to get five guys going,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said recently. “When called upon he’ll be ready to go.”
During the preseason, Bailey caught five passes for 78 yards, tying for third on the team in receptions. It has been tough not playing but his attitude remains good.
“It’s kind of frustrating for me, coming from a place where you’re THE guy,” Bailey said. “You come to a place (the NFL) where all of THE guys from whatever school they played are here with you. It’s a game of patience for me. I’ll just continue to work hard each and every day.
“I know at some point this season I’ll get in and make something happen. It’s a long season and I’ve just got to stay on my job and keep working hard.”
Bailey was asked if the coaching staff has told him what in particular might be keeping him from the field.
“No, not necessarily,” Bailey said. “But they don’t really say too much. I think it’s a thing about just comfort — having guys that they’re just very comfortable with and who they know are comfortable with the offense. So I’m just living and learning, and like I said, I’ll just continue to work hard and when my number’s called I’ll be ready to make a (contribution).”
Bailey’s situation typifies what has been a feast or famine situation for the Rams’ 2013 draft class in terms of playing time. Wide receiver Tavon Austin, linebacker Alec Ogletree and the now-injured safety T.J. McDonald — the team’s top three draft picks in April — have been starters and seen plenty of playing time.
The bottom four members of the Rams’ seven-member draft class, which includes Bailey, have seen next to no playing time from scrimmage.
Center-guard Barrett Jones, a fourth-round pick from Alabama, has been on the pregame inactive list all four games. He was rusty coming off foot surgery at the end of his final season at Alabama, and the team would like to see him get stronger and hone his technique.
Cornerback Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick from Miami (Fla.), has played only on special teams (51 plays) to date. Running back Zac Stacy of Vanderbilt, whom the Rams traded into the fifth round to get, has appeared in only two games. He was on the pregame inactive list against Atlanta and Dallas. In his eight plays (total) on offense against Arizona and San Francisco, he has one carry for four yards.
“It’s unfortunate because I’m a competitor,” Stacy said. “I love to compete. But at the same time, I’m young. I’m young and I just want to do whatever is best for the team, whatever the case may be. ... The only thing I can control is week in and week out preparing my butt off just in case my number’s called and let everything else take care of itself.”