What the St. Louis Rams Hope to Learn in Training Camp

Ron ClementsCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2012

Will Chris Givens, left, be the team's deep threat?
Will Chris Givens, left, be the team's deep threat?Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The top priority for the St. Louis Rams is finding a true number one receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Rams have a healthy Danny Amendola back this season. Amendola led the team with 85 receptions in 2010, but dislocated his elbow in the 2011 season opener and was lost for the season. As reliable, tough and sure-handed as Amendola is, he’s not a difference maker and has averaged just eight yards per reception.

The Rams have lacked a legitimate vertical threat since the days of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim.

Danario Alexander has been good, at times, and led the team in yards per reception last year. But the oft-injured Alexander is unreliable with chronic knee problems and is now hampered by a nagging hamstring injury.

The Rams drafted Appalachian State receiver Brian Quick with the 33rd overall pick and hope the second-rounder can be that No. 1 option the offense has been missing. Quick is big at 6’4”, 220-pounds and his last name says it all. Quick is a fast receiver for his size, something that surprised Bradford during organized team activities.

Another quick rookie is fourth-round pick Chris Givens, who may be the fastest player on the team. Givens, from Wake Forest, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and is stronger than expected.

Givens and Quick, who played college ball about an hour away from each other, have already become close friends.

The Rams also brought in veteran free agent Steve Smith, who led the NFL in receptions in 2009 while with the Giants. Smith hasn’t been the same since and caught just nine passes in 11 games with the Eagles last season before a knee injury ended his season. If Smith can turn back the clock three years and play anywhere close to that level, the Rams may have their guy.

Also in the mix with a lot to prove are two draft picks from last year: Greg Salas, who broke his leg at Dallas, and Austin Pettis, who will be suspended for the first two games of the season as part of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Brandon Gibson has had a good first couple days of camp, but has to show that he can be a consistent playmaker. The four-year veteran has shown spurts of ability, and then disappears in other games.

The Rams must also figure out who will be their starting left guard. Quinn Ojinnaka, who spent camp with the Rams last season before being part of the final cuts, is back in St. Louis after a year in Indianapolis. Ojinnaka has been getting the early reps.

Bryan Mattison started a few games last year when the now-retired Jacob Bell went down and is also competing for the job. Rookie Rokevious Watkins could be the wild card. The fifth-rounder showed up to camp overweight, but is strong and surprisingly agile for his massive size (6’4”, 340).

The Rams have question marks at tackle and center as well. Scott Wells was signed from Green Bay to be the starting center, but has been sidelined with a knee injury. Robert Turner, a free-agent acquisition from the New York Jets, has been getting the first-unit reps.

The team’s two starting tackles—Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold—are both coming off injured reserve. Smith suffered his third concussion in as many years while Saffold is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. If those two are healthy, the Rams are set with their bookends. But Smith, the second overall pick in 2009, has yet to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season. Saffold’s bench-pressing injury was sort of a freak occurrence and he should be fine for his third season.

The Rams will also have two new starters at defensive tackle and at outside linebacker. The D-line could be the strength of the team with ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and likely interior starters, Kendall Langford and rookie Michael Brockers.

Health is at the top of the list for the Rams in training camp. While they have several roster spots to sort out, injuries would force an unwelcome detour as the Rams try to find their way back onto the road of respectability.