Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sneak Peak at the Rams Wide Receiver Position in 2011

The signing of Mike Sims-Walker has not only excited a fanbase that was desperate for news of a big signing, but it also shakes up the wide receiver position for the Rams in 2011.

The Rams were very desperate at the position during the 2010 season after their top two receivers (Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery) were sidelined with season-ending knee injuries.

Some assumed that the Rams would instantly improve at the position after the return of Clayton and Avery, as well as the addition of their third and fourth round draft picks Austin Pettis (Boise St.) and Greg Salas (Hawaii).

However, no one can predict if Clayton and Avery will be able to play at the same level that they were at prior to their injuries and rookies are just too unpredictable, especially mid-round draft pick rookies.

Also, Clayton is a free-agent and has not been re-signed as of yet, although the Rams are reportedly negotiating a deal with him.

But with the addition of Sims-Walker, along with the other receivers, the Rams have an intense training camp battle in the makings, possibly one of the most intense camp battles in the NFL.

Danny Amendola, No.1 Slot Receiver

Amendola was the top receiver for the Rams in 2010 with 85 receptions and 689 yards and the chemistry between him and Sam Bradford was undeniable.

With the injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, Amendola was the only quality receiver remaining on the team. Some of the other receivers had good games occasionally, but lacked consistency.

But Amendola’s quality was not enough— team’s were able to stick double coverage on him and he did not have the size to make a difference downfield on deep routes, although he was stellar on short and intermediate routes.

Amendola will return in 2011 in a Wes Welker type role under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense, which is certainly a role he can excel at. He’ll be an important weapon in the 2011 offense.

Mike Sims-Walker, No.1 Wide Out

The Rams could possibly catch a break with the development of young receivers Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander, but until they show that they can consistently perform, then Sims-Walker will instantly be the most talented receiver on the team, especially on the outside.

Sims-Walker only has only played three seasons in his career, with 2009 being the only season that really stands out, but that was enough to show that he is a talented receiver.

Remember, in Jacksonville he had an average quarterback throwing to him in David Garrard. There also were not any other receivers to take the attention away from him. Mike Thomas and tight end Marcedes Lewis did not burst onto the scenes until last year.

Sims-Walker will provide a level of talent at the positiono that the Rams have not seen in recent years. Also, at the age of 26, it’s possible that he has not peaked yet, meaning he could potentially be talented enough to be a No.1 wide receiver.

Donnie Avery, No.2 Slot Receiver

Donnie Avery is not a pure slot receiver like Amendola, as we’ve seen him run plenty of routes on the outside in the past.

It’s unclear how McDaniels will choose to utilize Avery, or if he has recovered all of his speed after rehabbing his knee injury from 2010, but his quickness would be beneficial in the slot against slow linebackers.

But even though his role is not cemented as of yet, it will be interesting to see if he can live up to his second-round draft status and have a break out year.

Avery has not had a chance to play with a quarterback like Sam Bradford, so we’ll see if Marc Bulger and the terrible Rams offense were holding him back all along.

Brandon Gibson, No.2 Wide Out

You can make an argument for Danario Alexander, or perhaps the two rookie receivers Pettis and Salas, but the Rams will likely stick to the more experienced Brandon Gibson until someone else dethrones him by earning playing time.

Of course it’s also possible that Gibson will surprise us all, because after all he was the second leading wide receiver with 620 yards and 53 catches.

Actually, he already is surprising people—there hasn’t been enough time for Sims-Walker to get settled in, but as of now, Gibson is supposedly the unquestioned top receiver so far in training camp.  

While his stats were not too impressive, it’s also easy to forget that he lacked playing time in the beginning of the season, and it was also only his second season after entering the NFL as an undrafted free-agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.

He’ll get competition, but for now, it’s his job to lose.

Backup Receivers

Danario Alexander

There’s a chance that second-year player Danario Alexander could earn himself a starting job in 2011, but he still has a few hills to climb before that will happen.

Alexander impressed fans during his NFL debut last October against the San Diego Chargers in St. Louis—he had four catches for 72 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown reception. He also had a 45-yard catches against the Denver Broncos in Week 11, as well as a 46-yard catch during Week 16 against the San Francisco 49er’s.

His 6’5” 220 pound frame could be put to great use by Sam Bradford and the offense, but he needs to do something well other than the long ball.

For the most part, Alexander was not a major threat to opposing teams because the long ball was the only route he was able to run.

If Alexander wants to be a starter, then he needs to become a weapon on short and intermediate routes, as well as the long routes.

Alexander also has a lengthy history with knee injuries, which is another factor working against him. It’s something the coaching staff will carefully watch.  

Austin Pettis

Pettis was the Rams third round pick last April and he’ll bring a fairly wide skill set to the group if development pans out.

The Rams struggled with dropped passes in 2010, so that is something they wanted to fix. Forget speed, size and other traits, the Rams just wanted to find someone capable of hanging on to the ball no matter what, because they are confident that Bradford can hit his targets.

That’s exactly what Pettis was drafted for—his sure hands. Although, he also brings decent size at 6'3" and 209 pounds.

Pettis was also drafted because he at the tools to play each wide receiver position, which greatly increases the chance of him earning playing time.

Expect him to see the field in 2011 and expect his playing to increase towards the end of the season, but don’t expect any major contributions, at least not yet.

Greg Salas

Salas and Pettis are very similar prospects who were drafted for almost the exact same reasons.
Like Pettis, Salas has decent size at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he lacks dangerous speed. However, he has dependable hands and is capable of playing each wide receiver position.

It’s clear that the Rams drafted guys like Pettis and Salas because they feel they don’t need an elite receiver to excel.

They feel that they can get by with just surrounding Bradford with multiple targets that are reliable, but not overwhelming, which is basically the same strategy that has been used recently by the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots.

Mardy Gilyard

Despite being only a fourth round pick in 2010, fans still had a lot of high expectations for Mardy Gilyard last season, especially since he was such an electric player in college at Cincinnati.

However, Gilyard barely saw the field last year after he struggled to learn the playbook and he only recorded six catches for a modest 63 yards all season long.

Gilyard has mostly been an afterthought, but recent training camp reports have suggested that he’s showing up ready to play, so there’s a chance that he can turn it around.

However, it’s still early in training camp, so there’s time for things to change. Also, there’s a lot of competition at the position this year, so nothing is going to be guaranteed for Gilyard, no matter how regenerated he is.

Gilyard is ineligible for the practice squad, so it's do-or-die time for him this preseason. 

Dominique Curry

Dominique Curry joined the Rams in 2010 as an undrafted rookie with promising potential.

His size (6’2” 224 pounds) and strength makes the coaching staff hopeful that he’ll be able to contribute at some point in his career.

Actually, he was already contributing as a rookie, just not as a receiver—he was a valuable asset on special teams throughout the preseason and for part of the regular season.

His season was cut short after Week 3 in 2010 due to a torn ACL , which is particularly unfortunate because the Rams had multiple wide receivers go down with injuries in 2010, so he would have been given a chance to show off his skills as a receiver.

The Rams will try to make room on the roster for Curry, they would love to have him on special teams if nothing else, but the most likely scenario is a trip to the practice squad.     

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rams Sign WR Mike Sims-Walker Among Others

There have been many acquisitions announced across the NFL, but despite the handshake deals, today (Friday, 7/26) was the first day free agents could actually sign contracts with their new teams.

The Rams made a big splash on Tuesday by announcing that they agreed to a deal with safety Quintin Mikell of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mikell was among the top safeties available in free agency, and the signing was appropriate given that the Rams lost their former safety and team captain O.J. Atogwe to the Redskins prior to the lockout.

However, things were very calm for St. Louis on Wednesday and Thursday.

There were rumors floating around, and people were speculating on possibilities, but nothing happened.

Today, however, the Rams were able to come through for the team and the fans with some exciting signings.

The biggest signing of the day was also the most recent— around 8:45 PM Central, Adam Schefter and ESPN confirmed that the Rams reached an agreement with wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 26-year-old Sims-Walker is well in his prime and was relatively productive during his years in Jacksonville. His best season was in 2009 with 869 yards and seven touchdowns.

He also brings decent size to the groups at 6’2” and 214 pounds.

But Sims-Walker was not the only exciting addition— they also reached a deal with offensive guard Harvey Dahl of the Atlanta Falcons.

Dahl is 30 years old, but plenty young enough to remain at the top of his game.

Also, Dahl is considered by many to be a mean and enthusiastic player, which is something the Rams clearly need on the offensive line, especially if you saw their inability to pound for a yard or two on goal-line and third-and-short situations.

The Rams released their 2010 left-guard Jacob Bell, who was grossly overpayed under his contract. This hints that Dahl will start on the left side.

But the Rams did not only focus on offense, they also made an improvement on the defensive side of the ball by signing outside linebacker Zach Diles of the Houston Texans. 

Diles is not a flashy signing by any means, but he is an upgrade over the current outside linebackers on the roster.

33-year old veteran Na’il Diggs will be returning from injury in 2011 and is able to play either outside linebacker position.

Between the return of Diggs and the signing of Diles, combined with James Laurinaitis in the middle, the team’s linebacking crew should be significantly upgraded.

Between the three signings (Sims-Walker, Dahl, Diles), as well as the signing of the safety Mikell on Tuesday, the Rams have seemingly improved their roster significantly in free agency.

Other Updates

-The Rams agreed to terms with their second-round pick, tight end Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin), as well as their third-round pick Austin Pettis (Boise St.).

-The Rams are rumored to be strongly pursuing (LINK) running back Jason Snelling of the Atlanta Falcons, who would be a great addition as the team’s secondary running back behind Steven Jackson.

-The Rams made a contract offer to defensive tackle Brandon Mebane of the Seattle Seahawks, but Mebane has been highly sought after and their offer is not considered to be the best available for him. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rams Sign Safety Quintin Mikell

ESPN just announced the Rams will sign safety Quintin Mikell away from the Philadelphia Eagles—the contract will come at a later date, but the agreement is confirmed.

The signing makes sense given that the Rams allowed safety O.J. Atogwe to leave the team after the 2010 season to sign with the Washington Redskins.

Atogwe was a team captain and a key piece to the defense, so the Rams would be facing a major void this season had they not found a replacement.

The 30-year-old Mikell was a second-team All Pro in both 2008 and 2010, and he was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2010.

He is solid in pass coverage, deflecting 28 passed in 2010 and 2009 combined, and he is also a capable tackler—he had over 90 tackles in both 2008 (93) and 2009 (90), as well as 88 tackles in 2010.

Mikell will be an immediate starter, and he'll likely be an improvement over Atogwe.

He'll start alongside either James Bulter, or Craig Dahl. 

St. Louis Rams Undrafted Rookie Signings

One of the more talked about players who went undrafted last April— along with linebacker Mark Herzlich (Boston College) and Noel Divine (West Virginia)— is running back Derrick Locke of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Locke has amazingly recorded a 4.29 second 40 yard dash, and it has been rumored that he has done it in 4.21 seconds.

So naturally, Rams fans were thrilled when rumors circulated that they were about to acquire Locke, who could have been a dangerous outside runner for them, and possibly even a weapon in the return game.

But disappointment was widespread today after the rumors fell through, and Locke eventually announced that he's signing with the Minnesota Vikings.

Although the Rams lost one of the most intriguing rookie free agents available, they are still searching for a diamond in the rough with their other signings:
Taylor Potts (QB, Texas Tech)
Basically, Taylor Potts will be another arm for training camp, and he'll compete for a spot on the roster.

The Rams have Sam Bradford starting, obviously, and veteran A.J. Feeley as the backup. Last year they had Thad Lewis as the third string quarterback, and many fans are hoping he can develop into a possible wildcat option, but that will take some time.

Pott will compete with Lewis for the third string job. The advantage he had over Lewis is that he is 6'5" and 222 pounds, and is more of a pure passer.

The short and quick passes he used at Texas Tech is particularly appealing, since the Rams run an offense that uses short and intermediate routes.
Dionte Dinkins (CB, Fort Valley State)

Dionte Dinkins is a no name defensive back from a small school, but the Rams are certainly looking for depth in their defensive backfield, which is obvious given that three out of the last four players they drafted in April were defensive backs.

Along with seventh round picks Mikail Baker and Jonathan Nelson, Dinkins will compete for a spot as a backup, and he will have to contribute on special teams if he wants a roster spot.

At 6'1" and 195 pounds, Dinkins also has decent size and fits the mold of a cornerback in Steve Spagnuolo's system.

Arthur Thomas (DT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff)

The Rams have been able to find some unknown defensive linemen with promising potential, such as C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo and Gary Gibson—who was actually a 16 game starter last season.

Steve Spagnuolo will attempt to find another gem in defensive tackle Arthur Thomas.

There is not a lot of information out there on Thomas, but he is known as a dedicated worker. The coaching staff will attempt to turn him into a rotational guy somewhere down the road, but he could be an asset on special teams in the meantime.

Bryant Browning (OG, Ohio State)

The Rams certainly need an upgrade at offensive guard over the current starter Adam Goldberg, and while it's unclear if Bryant Bowling is capable of upgrading the position, he certainly will be given the chance to prove that he's an overlooked lineman capable of playing at the NFL level.

Browning was a three-year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and it's encouraging that he played at a major program, as the adjustment won't be as drastic.

On top of being a starter, he was also a team captain in 2010, which means he has the personality that the Rams look for in players.

Schuylar Oordt (TE, Northern Iowa)

Between Mike Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema, Fendi Onobun and the 2011 second round draft pick Lance Kendricks, the Rams should be set at tight end.

But even though there is a lot of competition at the position, the Rams still don't have a premiere tight end rotation, which is why they'll continue to look for help at the position until some of the current players begin to establish themselves on the field.

Schulyar Oordt went to a small school in the Missouri Valley Conference, but he demonstrated an impressive play making ability for a tight end.

His profile on the Northern Iowa website points out that he averaged 18.6 yards per catch throughout his college career, and he finished the 2010 season with 405 yards and three touchdowns.

Oordt will most likely compete for a spot on the practice squad, but the most valuable thing Oordt can do is motivate Fendi Onobun.

If Onobun can feel some pressure, then the coaching staff might be able to turn his amazing physical talents into production.

Other Rookie Free Agent Signings

Randall Hunt (OG, Illinois)

Travon Bellamy (CB, Illinois)

Beau Warren (C, Virginia Tech)

Karri Kuuttila (OT, Lock Haven)

Updates will be made if and when any new signings are confirmed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Plaxico Burress Has His Eyes on the St. Louis Rams

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was released from prison earlier this year after serving a two year sentence for weapons charges, and he is now looking to continue his career.

Given that Burress is a resident of the New York area, rumors were suggesting that he preferred to play for an East Coast team, such as the Philadelphia Eagles, or the New York Jets.

However, recent chatter indicates that he has his eyes on the Midwest as well, particularly the St. Louis Rams.
"I mean, it's very appealing." said Burress, referring to the possibility of playing for the Rams.

Then he complimented the teams quarterback situation.

"(Sam Bradford) has all the tools to be the next elite quarterback in this league.  I know how difficult that position is to play, and I know how many high draft picks come into that position and fail. But it seems like he is on the right track."

Burress then discussed his admiration for Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, and he briefly discussed their relationship together under the New York Giants, where Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator before accepting the Rams head coaching job.

"I have a lot of respect for coach Spagnulolo. We had a great relationship. When he was in New York, and I was playing on offense, and he was calling the plays, and I was always asking coach: 'What do you got for me today?,' just always trying to pick his brain and to see his defenses. He is a great football mind, he has surrounded himself with a great staff and he is getting all the right guys around that situation."

The interview was conducted on "Sirius Blitz", a show hosted by Adam Schein. The summary of the interview was posted by Fox Sports.


Should the Rams buy into Plaxico's willingness to play for the team?

Spagnuolo, as well as General Manager Billy Devaney, have been building the team with high character guys who stay out of trouble, which does not exactly describe Plaxico (or at least the Plaxico we knew before he went to prison).

On top of the accidental gun discharge that resulted in prison time, Burress was also notorious for being late for, or flat out skipping team meetings.

But then again, it's hard to imagine that two years in prison wouldn't change a man's attitude.

Also, prior the draft last April, wide receiver was considered to be the Rams biggest team need by far, but the team used their third and fourth round picks on Austin Pettis (Boise St.) and Greg Salas (Hawaii).

However, does anyone really expect two mid-round picks to cure the team's need at receiver? Even the return of Mark Clayton, as well as Donnie Avery, does not provide a lot of reassurance, given they are both coming off major knee injuries that they obtained in 2010.

Plaxico is 33 years old, which is not young by any means, but it's not too old either.

Small, speedy receivers (Torry Holt) have short-lived careers, but larger framed receivers (Terrell Owens,Randy Moss), like the 6'5" 232 pounds Burress, have longer careers and can stay productive well into their mid-30's.

It's doubtful that the Rams front office will bite, but if they do, then the reward could certainly be great. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

NFL Lockout: Sabotaging the Rams Newly Gained Respect

St. Louis Rams fans have heard the typical theories on how the lockout could negatively effect the team.

Second year quarterback Sam Bradford can't even talk to the newly hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and the same goes for all of the young offensive players surrounding Bradford.

There's also their first round draft pick from last April, Robert Quinn, who already missed his final season in college due to a NCAA suspension. Since he's already been out of football for a year, the Rams can't afford to put Quinn through a bite size version of training camp.

And of course there are also the issues that are burdening every NFL team, such as the inability to sign draft picks and free agents.

But the Rams have another reason to be concerned, which stems from the overall futility of the franchise between the 2007 and 2009 seasons— a stretch that brought them only six combined wins in three years.

Though the team's 7-9 record in 2010 was certainly a pleasant surprise, the fans of St. Louis are still demoralized from the lack of production in recent years.

Sure, the Rams sold just enough tickets in 2010 in order to avoid any television blackouts, but it was a photo finish every time. They met the minimum requirements for ticket sales, but the dome was never loaded to the roof with crazed Rams fans.

So even though the 2010 season was a major step towards rebuilding the relationship with fans, it was still not enough, at least not yet.

However, the NFL decided to help the cause when drawing up the Rams 2011 schedule.

Despite the team's pitiful performance on Monday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks for the 2010 season finale, the NFL was able to overlook that and give the Rams two Monday night games in 2011.

The first is scheduled against the New York Giants during Week 2, while the second is Week 14 against the Seahawks.

The Rams were also fortunate enough to be chosen to play in the annual preseason Hall of Fame game against the Chicago Bears (due to Marshall Faulk's induction into the Hall of Fame this year).

Those prime time games could go a long way towards regenerating the Rams hype within the city of St. Louis, but not if the NFL lockout has anything to say about it.

If the lockout drags on past July 15th then there's a real possibility that the Hall of Fame game could be canceled, which would kill the team's first 2011 appearance on the national spotlight.

Also, since the Rams second prime time event is against the Giants during Week 2, a shortened training camp could ruin that event as well.

The Giants are just pound-for-pound a more talented and more experienced team, so the Rams can't expect to put on an entertaining show against a team as good as the Giants that early in the season if there is a shortened training camp, especially since the game is being played in the Meadowlands.

That would leave the Week 14 game against Seattle as the team's only real chance to make a splash on the national stage.

Sure, the Rams could put together a solid season and even win the NFC West, but that's not enough to rejuvenate the fans, at least not on it's own.

To really force the casual fans to take notice, the team needs major outlets such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated to take up their cause and build their hype.

That hype just won't happen with games that air at noon and earn five seconds of national highlight coverage.
But luckily for the Rams, there's a real possibility that the lockout could be ending soon, which means they will have a chance to capitalize on their prime time opportunities.

If that happens, the fair weather fans could finally come out of the woodwork and once again turn the Edward Jones Dome into one of the most feared stadiums in the NFL.