Sam Bradford's first pass in Saturday's game against the Dallas Cowboys looked awfully familiar. In a comfortably sized pocket, he found Brandon Gibson streaking up the left hash mark on a slant route, designed to get Gibson back in the fold with the same quarterback that has been throwing to him since 2010. Gibson picked up another seven yards for a total gain of 14 on the play, putting him 14 yards closer to a spot on the St. Louis Rams' final roster.
This season, Gibson is fighting for his roster spot. He was on the field for the first time during the preseason this year, something that will likely factor into the decision of whether he stays or goes when the final round of cuts happen on Friday. Gibson is hardly alone in that, and with a first wave of roster cuts happening on Monday, it makes for a good time to take a look at where things stand in a hotly contested battle for receiver supremacy.
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Danny Amendola - Bradford probably should have shared his Rookie of the Year award with Amendola in 2010. The poor man's Wes Welker caught 85 of 114 targets from the rookie that year for a stunning 74.6 percent catch rate. Losing Amendola in the first week of the season last year undoubtedly put Bradford's year on a downward track.
He was a perfect 3-for-3 against the Chiefs last week, making this unbelievable touchdown catch. Against Dallas, Danny was off his game, but did have his reps cut back as the coaches worked in the other receivers with Bradford and the ones.
The only question for Amendola this week is whether or not he can offer more than just a reliable pair of hands. That was the case against the Chiefs.
Brian Quick - The first pick in the second round of the draft, Quick has had the expected slow transition to the NFL. The Appalachian State product has caught 5-of-8 passes thrown his way in the preseason for 68 yards, including a 39-yarder last week. The Rams really need him to contribute right away, even in a limited role.
Chris Givens - There's no doubt that Givens can stretch a field, but can anyone get the ball to him? The fourth-round pick is probably ahead of Quick right now. I was especially impressed with the shorter stuff he caught against the Chiefs and turned into bigger gains. That's the key to him being a more fully functional receiver.
Steve Smith - Some might not put Smith in the "safe" category. Smith is a veteran possession receiver. He looks to be over the microfracture surgery that spoiled his last two seasons, but he hardly looks like the former Pro Bowl guy. Nevertheless, Smith's hands are an asset in the possession game. He caught 107 passes on 151 targets in 2009, a 70.9 percent rate. He caught almost 70 percent the year before, and it helps having Eli Manning throwing the ball to you. He does have 14 drops during that stretch.
Stuck In The Middle
Above are four players likely to be part of the a group of six, possibly seven, receivers. This group is still in making their case.
Austin Pettis - Last year's third-round pick has made a nice impression in the preseason so far, but it is only the preseason. His size may be his best asset, and with a two-game suspension to serve to start the season, the Rams can defer a decision.
Brandon Gibson - Experience counts and so will his solid start to training camp, when he and Bradford got more comfortable with each other. Gibson's ability to pick up yards after the catch works in his favor; his struggles with consistency do not. He caught one of two passes last week. He caught just over 55 percent of the 65 targets thrown his way last year. The year before, he caught 61 percent of 86 targets, a respectable number. He caught 53 percent in 2009 with Marc Bulger throwing him the ball. He has 18 drops, per PFF, during that stretch.
Gibson's case is the toughest to evaluate, especially since he missed the first two preseason games. I still think he makes it. The talent is there and the stability might benefit him. The receiver position, after all, takes some time to learn.
Greg Salas - It might come down to special teams for Salas. His non-catch touchdown was a very nice play last week, and his limited work in 2011 revealed a player with some legitimate upside.
Nick Johnson - An undrafted rookie, his best shot is landing on the practice squad. Again, special teams could be the key.
Michael Campbell - His size is nice at 6-foot-2, but he has not caught a single pass since the first preseason game. He and Johnson are the odd men out if the Rams stick with just six receivers.
Bradford and Gibson connected on the Rams' very first pass of the preseason last year, a deep bomb carrying the hopes of so many desperate fans that Gibson caught for a touchdown. There was tangled web of narrative wrapped around that play, ranging from the high hopes for better year to inflated expectations from the team's receivers.
Fans are still dreaming big for the Rams and wondering about the team's receivers. Once again, the team's fortunes hinge on how well those receivers are playing. Deja vu all over again.