The Rams have focused much of the offseason on giving Sam Bradford more receiving options
By STAN McNEALFS Midwest
Last year: Let's just say the receivers weren't exactly a strength. The Rams finished in the bottom half of the NFL in receptions, touchdown receptions and receiving yards. They were even worse in the department of big plays. The Rams had only 22 receptions that went for at least 25 yards, which was just one more than the Lions' Calvin Johnson. No wonder the team focused so much this offseason on giving Sam Bradford more weapons.
Coaches: Like many on Jeff Fisher's staff, receivers coach Ray Sherman and tight ends coach Rob Boras are returning for their second season in St. Louis. Also like many on the staff, Sherman worked with Fisher in Tennessee. He was the Titans' receivers coach in 2005 and 2006. Boras coached in Jacksonville and Chicago before joining the Rams.
1. Who will make the most receptions?
We know it won't be either of last year's leaders. Danny Amendola (Patriots) and Brandon Gibson (Dolphins) have departed, leaving wideout Chris Givens and tight end Lance Kendricks as the top incumbents from last year, when both made 42 catches. Both, however, face stiffer competition for playing time this year. The smart choice is new tight end Jared Cook, even though he hasn't caught more than 49 passes in any of his first four seasons. Speedster Tavon Austin, the eighth pick in the draft, could lead the team in receiving yards, but the Rams haven't thrown enough long passes in the Sam Bradford era to think Austin will also lead in catches.
2. What are the expectations for Austin?
With the 5-foot-8 rookie in the fold, you won't be hearing much about a lack of speed on the receiving crew anymore. Austin ran the second-fastest 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, at 4.3 seconds. But he is about more than speed. "Talent-wise, he has it all," cornerback Janoris Jenkins told the NFL Network. "Great speed, great hands, great quickness." NFL Network analyst and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk is a fan, too. "He's Percy Harvin and Wes Welker wrapped into one," Faulk said. The Rams plan to use Austin out of the backfield at times, and he could even do some returning.
3. Who's a returning receiver to watch?
Austin Pettis is heading into just his third season, but that makes him a seasoned pro among the young Rams. Besides assuming more of a leadership role in the offseason, Pettis had the best offseason of anyone in the receiving crew, according to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Pettis enters training camp third on the depth chart, behind Givens and Austin but ahead of second-year wideout Brian Quick and rookie Stedman Bailey.
Quote: "We're going to try to get the ball to him as often as we can, however we do that." -- coach Jeff Fisher on top draft pick Tavon Austin
What others are saying: "Jared Cook, an athletic 6-foot-5, nearly 250-pound tight end never did ascend from good to great during his four years in Tennessee. However, his talent is rather undeniable. And if Cook winds up being the player just about everyone feels he can be, then Sam Bradford and the Rams' offense will benefit." -- Sports Illustrated blogger Chris Burke
Bottom line: Without question, the Rams have upped the speed and talent levels of their ball-catching corps. But with all these newcomers, transforming the talent into results could take a while. At any rate, the receivers should be more entertaining to watch.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.