There is a good chance that Rams wide receivers coach Ray Sherman is in charge of the youngest receiving corps in the NFL. The veteran assistant coach is in his 24th season and second with the Rams, making it his 38th year in coaching. The Rams’ brain trust of Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, along with coaches like Sherman and scouts, are building a championship foundation rather quickly.
Heading into the 2013 offseason, free agency and the annual NFL draft, the organization’s message was loud and clear: “We need weapons.” That put a smile on quarterback Sam Bradford’s face, not to mention Sherman’s. With the departure of Brandon Gibson to Miami and Danny Amendola to the Patriots, though, the receivers’ meeting room became barren in the veteran leadership department.
Not for long. Third-year pro Austin Pettis has quickly taken to grooming the youngsters when not involved in the play, and Sherman spent last season teaching a very talented receiver in Chris Givens. The 13th receiver selected in the 2012 draft, Givens had a productive rookie season and finished with 691 yards and five touchdowns. He also had five straight games with a catch of 50 yards or more. If last Thursday’s preseason game against the Browns proved anything, it confirmed that the Bradford-Givens partnership promises to only grow from here.
“He is really having a good camp, he is a lot stronger, a lot wiser, and last year’s really helped him to understand what to expect,” Sherman said about Givens. “He came into camp a few pounds heavier and he is playing faster. So we have to keep progressing so he can be ready for that first game.”
Givens was the Rams’ only vertical threat in 2012. Sherman and others, however, believe that the former Demon Deacon can keep refining his short- and deep-route skills – developing into the total package.
“That’s what where working on because everybody knows he has that downfield speed, and what we’re trying to do is work on the intermediate and short routes, and getting him to perfect those routes, then now he can be one of those complete player,” Sherman said. “Sometimes teams … their corners are going to play off expecting him to go deep, so we’re trying to work on the short and intermediate routes.”
The Rams have numerous youngsters who bring explosion, athletic ability, skill set and positional attributes, and the team is relying on these fleet-footed receivers – including rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey – to grow up in a hurry and share the wealth.
When asked if there are enough footballs to go around “Well, there’s going have to be … they know there is only one football,” Sherman said. “Bottom line: I tell them just get to where you’re supposed to be and the quarterback will find you. Wherever his progression takes him, just make sure you’re in the spot where you can get open.”
Second-year player Brian Quick, who is teasing fans with his flashes in both practice and games, also factors into the mix.
“You know, he has made a lot of progress,” Sherman said. “What we’ve got to do is continue to get him more reps in these games and that’s going to help him. Last week he played in the second and third quarters. We just have to get him a lot of reps and a lot of work, to help him get ready for that first ball game.”
While this group as a whole is working hard and competing at a high level, pushing one another to get better each and every practice, there are certain individuals who are opening eyes as well.
Raymond Radway, a second-year player who spent last season on the Rams’ practice squad, possesses a great combination of size and speed. Rookies Demetrius Fields, Emory Blake (son of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake) and Andrew Helmick, the local product from Lindenwood University who suffered a soft tissue injury early in camp, have opened coaches’ eyes with speed and acrobatic catches.
The Rams are young, but they are unquestionably built for speed outside the numbers with explosive playmakers in the short and intermediate areas of the field to take advantage of mismatches in space and show off the run-after-catch skill set. While raw, the Rams are counting on this group of talented receivers to provide Bradford with legitimate weapons in an upcoming season of high expectations – within the NFC West and beyond.