Rams still searching for second option at WR

ST. LOUIS – The ambitious rookie wants his chance, his drive obvious with each word he speaks. He envisions growing into the St. Louis Rams’ second wide receiver option behind Danny Amendola, because he’s not the type to become settled.

“Oh, definitely,” said Chris Givens, taken 96th overall from Wake Forest. “That’s something I think about right now, every day. I’m not the type who’s going to be content with just having a certain role. I want to be a major contributor to the offense.”

The hardened veteran wants his chance, his drive obvious with a slight smile before he speaks. He envisions growing into the Rams’ second wide receiver option behind Amendola, because he’s not the type to let opportunity pass him by.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Steve Smith, signed by St. Louis in March after spending his first five NFL seasons with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. “I’ve just got to go out there and play and show my performance.”

Good news for the Rams: Their senior member of the slot is back after missing most of the 2011 season because of a torn triceps and a dislocated elbow in his left arm sustained in a Week 1 loss to the Eagles. Amendola, who has 1,060 yards receiving and four touchdowns in three seasons as the Gateway City’s sawed-off specialist in the middle, will provide valued hands for quarterback Sam Bradford that were AWOL for all but three quarters last fall. His return is welcome.

Bad news: Through two preseason games, it’s unclear who the Rams’ second receiving option will be when facing the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Austin Pettis has four catches for 47 yards, but he’ll miss the first two regular-season games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy last December; Givens (three catches for 40 yards) and fellow rookie Brian Quick (four catches for 29 yards) are skilled but both are as green as the turf they cut on at the Edward Jones Dome; Smith (three catches for 24 yards) is seasoned, but he only caught 11 passes in nine games with the Eagles in 2011; Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander have been off the grid throughout most of training camp because of hamstring issues.

So the question remains: Who will be the trusted No. 2?

“I think there’s still some tough calls,” said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who has installed a West Coast-like system after spending six seasons with the New York Jets. “I think we know we got a good core group of guys. Again, we’re still waiting for some guys to separate themselves. Again, then you start playing the numbers game. But we’re very pleased with what those guys have done. In these next couple of games, we expect to have a couple guys step up.”

The next couple games will include that chance. It’s key that someone – anyone – wrestles the opportunity by its collar, because the Rams’ air attack had more flight delays last season than Lambert-St. Louis International Airport during a midwinter blizzard.

The Rams ranked 30th in pass offense with an average of 179.4 yards per game, squeezing past the Denver Broncos (152.1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (136.2) for the cellar spots in the category. That was a dip from Bradford’s rookie season, when St. Louis averaged 204.2 yards per game through the air – a total that ranked 21st in the league.

But there’s promise in youth. Amendola, the slot sage himself, likes what he sees from Quick and Givens. The preseason is like shaking a wrapped birthday gift – you never know what you’re going to get – but there are signs that the Rams’ passing game could have more pop.

“It’s going good,” Amendola said of the wide receiver competition. “Young guys with a bunch of speed and talent (are) trying to get this playbook down. … They’re coming in – they’re ready to play. They’re ready to learn this offense – the ends and outs and what it takes to be a professional wide receiver. They’re ready to go.”

They better be, because Bradford will trust them to provide an escape hatch with a terror like Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh chasing him in more than two weeks. Last season, there were precious few options for the former Heisman Trophy winner in a painful year: Brandon Lloyd, now with the New England Patriots, led the Rams with 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns; Gibson followed with 36 catches for 431 yards and a touchdown; Alexander had 26 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns.

Will there be a correction in the coming months? Will Sundays include more firepower for Bradford in his most important season?

They better – or the former top draft pick’s arm will be grounded again.

“In those certain areas where there is competition, we tried to create at least an even opportunity for them as best we can,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ll see. There will be some things that will be settled here in the next week or so.”

He’s right. Many in the Rams’ wide receiving corps want their chance to be the trusted No. 2.

May the group’s strongest emerge.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.