ST. LOUIS — Stedman Bailey didn’t let his four-game suspension stop him from playing well throughout offseason workouts and into the preseason.
Now the Rams will get to find out two weeks early if the second-year wide receiver maintained those efforts on his own in Miami, where he learned Tuesday night that the NFL’s new drug policy would retroactively end his four-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Bailey took the first flight to St. Louis on Wednesday morning and arrived in plenty of time to join his teammates for an indoor practice.
"I have a personal trainer back home that I worked out with throughout the whole offseason," Bailey said. "He just did a good job of keeping me in shape, keeping my whole body in shape so once I get back I could hit the field running."
He wasn’t even allowed into the building during his suspension for a positive test of performance-enhancing drugs, so it could take a couple days for Bailey to get into the rhythms of the daily grind. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher sees no reason why Bailey can’t fit right into the game plan for Sunday’s game against Dallas, even though he missed team meetings earlier this week.
Adjusting to a new first-string quarterback shouldn’t be much of an issue, either, since Bailey caught plenty of passes from Austin Davis on the scout team a year ago. The same would be true to a lesser degree if Hill can play Sunday, since he and Bailey both played with the second team during the preseason before Sam Bradford’s injury.
Whoever plays quarterback could certainly use some new weapons Sunday against a solid but beatable Dallas secondary. Bailey won’t put up huge numbers or offset the virtual lack of catches so far by No. 1 receiver Kenny Britt, but there’s reason to believe Bailey can significantly improve on the 17 catches and 226 yards of his rookie season.
"He’s a guy that obviously knows the system very well, has great hands, has great feel, knows exactly what we’re trying to get done so he’s another playmaker out there," Davis said. "When those other guys get tired, Sted steps up and makes big plays."
That could be even more important Sunday depending on the status of Tavon Austin, who didn’t practice Wednesday with an MCL injury he suffered on a punt return at Tampa Bay. Fisher said the Rams certainly don’t want to rush Austin’s return and acknowledged Bailey could have an opportunity to help fill that void.
Of course, Bailey doesn’t quite bring the explosiveness of his former college teammate at West Virginia, where the two combined for nearly 3,000 receiving yards as seniors. But he’s certainly capable of breaking a big play or maybe even taking Austin’s place as a punt returner, though Austin Pettis and Chris Givens are more likely options.
The Rams might even need someone new to catch the pitch on the end-around play that netted 18 yards with Austin and another 12 with Britt the two times St. Louis ran it in Tampa Bay. Bailey took his second career carry for a 27-yard touchdown on a double reverse in a 23-13 win over the Bucs last December.
It’s probably not a play he practiced back in Miami, where he says he tried to run some of the same routes his teammates were running at Rams Park. Bailey said he kept up with the rumors that began to circulate about the new drug policy more than a week ago, and he even tweeted, "Just got some great news. Could be possibly suiting up Sunday!"
To all my loving & supportive fans. I appreciate all the positive & encouraging words. I won't let u guys down again. Let's work baby
Instead, he spent a final weekend with his family, the lone part of the suspension Bailey will miss. Givens says Stedman adds another dimension to the offense, something it desperately needs after one touchdown in two weeks against middling defenses.
"Sted’s a competitor," Givens said. "He’s been studying the game. He’s been staying in shape, so I don’t think it’ll be too difficult for him to get back into the rotation."
Still, Bailey won’t be the catalyst for any radical improvements on offense, even if he can keep building on his offseason success. His presence, while positive, is just one small addition to a puzzle that may not have all the necessary pieces.