EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For those who have watched the St. Louis Rams in training camp, there has been an obvious attempt by the team to give a handful of their wide receivers an opportunity to play with the first team.
Bailey's work with Bradford and the top offense was particularly noticeable in Saturday's 11-on-11 drills at the team's annual fanfest at the Edward Jones Dome. Bailey created separation and came up with catches for big gains down the field from Bradford on consecutive plays as team drills began. He then continued to make plays throughout the day.
"Sted made a lot of plays today," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s there. He knows how to get open and knows how to make the plays."
A few months ago, Bailey working with the first-team offense regularly would have been no surprise. In fact, it would have been surprising if he wasn't getting that work when you consider he closed his rookie season as the team's most consistent performer on the outside.
But Bailey's outlook for the 2014 season changed for the worse two days after the NFL draft when the league announced his four-game suspension for violation of the policy against performance enhancing substances.
Entering this training camp, Bailey's suspension put the Rams in the unenviable spot of trying to replace him for the first four weeks while also getting him enough repetitions to stay sharp. Making matters worse, a scheduling quirk where the Rams have a bye in Week 4 means Bailey won't actually return until Week 6.
Despite Bailey's forthcoming absence, Fisher has not been shy about getting him work with the first-team offense. Fisher said that approach will continue until the season and suspension draw closer.
“He’s going to get plenty of work and so are the other guys," Fisher said. "We’ve got four preseason games and there’s plenty of snaps, plenty of practice snaps to have him ready. We’ll probably adjust things right prior to the final cut down.
"Yes, we’ll miss him, but he’s going to push right through camp, and we’ll get through his ordeal, and we’ll get him right back in the lineup.”
In other words, expect to see plenty of Bailey in preseason games. While Bailey has looked to be one of the team's best wideouts in camp, it's understandable why the Rams would be planning big things for him upon his return. And though it's fair to wonder if other receivers who are going to be on the roster in the opening weeks would be better served with more reps, it seems Britt, Quick and Austin have not been hampered by their changing roles from day to day.
For his part, Bailey says the game has slowed down a lot for him entering his second season. He spent most of his rookie season working exclusively on special teams before getting more offensive snaps at the end of the season. He took advantage of the additional chances in posting 16 of his 17 catches and 214 of his 226 receiving yards over the final six games.
Those numbers won't wow anyone, but Bailey's knack for getting open and coming up with key catches offered plenty of promise. The possibility of losing out on that promise clearly gnaws at Bailey. However, he has nobody but himself to blame for the suspension.
"It’s something that kills me every time I think about it, but my job is to just keep working hard, keep giving my all to the team," Bailey said. "It actually makes me feel really good that they have the confidence in me to keep me out there, keep me getting reps with the ones. Once I come back, I hope I can get back in the rotation and help this team out."
Clearly, the Rams do have big plans for Bailey upon his return. He wouldn't be getting so many reps with the first-team offense if they didn't. Bailey spent a couple of days in the offseason working with Bradford in Oklahoma, and they have a growing rapport that Bradford looks forward to resuming when Bailey gets back.
"I think he’s going to be a big part of what we do when he gets back," Bradford said. "Obviously, it’s a bummer that he’s not going to be with us [in] the first four, but when he comes back, the timing and everything that we’re doing right now is to make sure that we’re ready when he does get back. He’s been very productive.”
For a team in need of consistent receiver production, the real shame is that they have to wait at all.