EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The wait for rookie receiver Stedman Bailey to get more than just a cameo appearance in a game came to an end last week against Tennessee when he played about a dozen snaps.
It was a long wait for a player who entered the NFL with such an impressive resume.
“It’s very hard,” Bailey said. “I look at a bunch of other rookie guys around the league that I came up with that are doing some pretty big things and it’s kind of hard waiting on my moment. But at the same time I just take the mentality to come out and keep working hard every day and know that my opportunity will come.”
All indications are that Bailey’s time has arrived. When asked about Bailey’s larger workload on Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher stopped the question before it was finished and declared that Bailey would get more work this week against Indianapolis and that his “time is coming.”
And why shouldn’t it? In looking at the production of the team’s young receiver group through the first nine games, the Rams have every reason to continue searching for more production.
Fisher said Thursday that Bailey’s increased chances are a result of his hard work and talent paying off.
“We drafted ‘Sted’ to be a part of this team and contribute, and so now he’s going to get a chance to contribute more,” Fisher said.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer echoed those sentiments.
“I think it just shows that we’ve got a lot of talented guys we want to try to use and mix and match,” Schottenheimer said. “Again obviously, you’ve got draft picks that we feel good about. You roll a lot of guys through. The fresher we are, the better we’re going to be, especially playing a team like this that’s going to get up in your face and challenge you.”
While Bailey has certainly put in the work and showed well on the practice field this year, it’d be folly to think the Rams aren’t hoping that Bailey can give a struggling receiving corps a boost.
Bailey doesn’t have the explosive speed of Chris Givens or Tavon Austin or the imposing size of a Brian Quick, but running reliable routes and routinely catching the ball would prove to be an upgrade over what we’ve seen in the first half-plus of the 2013 season.
Through the first nine games, Rams receivers have combined for 12 drops (third worst in the league) and rank last in the league in yards per reception at 11.87. Their 1,151 yards is 26th in the NFL.
In other words, Rams receivers have struggled not only to catch the ball but they aren’t exactly providing big plays when they do hang on to one.
Bailey made the first catch of his NFL career against Tennessee last week, hauling in a pass 7 yards down field and scrambling for 5 more for a gain of 12 and a first down that helped set up a touchdown. It was his first opportunity to contribute beyond the four special-teams duties he holds down every week.
While there’s not much more to go on in terms of Bailey’s young NFL career, sure hands, precise routes and big plays were all familiar concepts to him in his time at West Virginia.
In his final season as a Mountaineer in 2012, Bailey had 114 receptions for 1,622 yards and an astonishing 25 touchdowns.
“You go back to probably the start of the season on the scout team, just the things he was able to do there, creating separation,” Schottenheimer said. “Here’s a guy that has worked his way up with opportunities. He’s now very, very comfortable with the system. Obviously, his ability speaks for itself, great change of direction. So, you’ll definitely see him out there.”
More Bailey also means less of someone else; something the Rams will have to work through as they get closer to game time. From the looks of last week, it was Quick who saw his reps dwindle a bit, but don’t be surprised if Austin Pettis also takes a hit in terms of snaps depending on how much Bailey gets in the game.
For his part, Bailey said he’s spent the first nine weeks doing all he can to study not only his fellow receivers but other top wideouts the Rams play every week. He’s seen some great ones on opposing teams such as Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald.
It would be unwise and unfair for anyone to expect Bailey to have success similar to what running back Zac Stacy did for that fledgling position group when he got his first shot in Week 5. Bailey plays a more difficult position to make a quick transition and doesn’t have starting quarterback Sam Bradford throwing to him.
“I try to remain positive every day knowing the opportunity is going to come and when it comes I have got to take advantage,” Bailey said. “I have an opportunity here and I am looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
At this point, if Bailey can provide even some level of consistency with the basics, it would be a step in the right direction.