Stedman Bailey finding his stride

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Through the spring and into summer's training camp, there probably wasn't a more consistently impressive wide receiver on the St. Louis Rams roster than Stedman Bailey.

“Obviously, I think even going back to training camp and spring, he had just a tremendous, tremendous practices, week-in-and-week-out, day-in-and-day-out." offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.

But every time Bailey made a one-handed catch in traffic or elevated above a taller defensive back to make another circus catch, instead of looking forward to what could come, the general reaction was 'Too bad he's suspended for the first four games.'

Subtracting Bailey from the mix right as the season began wasn't as big of a loss as it might have seemed when the suspension was announced in May because Brian Quick emerged as the team's most reliable receiving threat with fellow big wideout Kenny Britt operating on the other side. In fact, the Rams' passing attack was much better than expected and even ranked in the top 10 in the league at times during the first six weeks.

After the NFL altered some of its drug policy in September, Bailey's suspension was reduced to time already served, which amounted to two games. That certainly didn't figure to be as debilitating as a four-game (and it would have been five weeks because of a bye week in there) absence would have been.

However, by the time Bailey returned, a starting job that he could have competed for in the summer was now occupied by Quick.

"Definitely that set me back some," Bailey said. "I can’t do anything but blame myself on that one. But it just feels good to be finally back in the groove now and on the same page with my quarterback trying to make plays."

The Rams lost Quick to a season-ending shoulder injury in their Oct. 26 loss to Kansas City. After that injury became clear, Rams coach Jeff Fisher pointed to Bailey as part of a group expected to help replace Quick's production. To that point, he'd had just four catches for 53 yards. And his resurgence didn't come quickly thereafter, either.

Bailey provided only four catches for 34 yards in the three weeks immediately following the Kansas City game. It was clear that Bailey wasn't yet comfortable in his return and he and then quarterback Austin Davis weren't exactly clicking.

“I think being a young player especially when you miss two weeks or whatever it was, there’s a little bit of a learning curve getting back," Schottenheimer said. "Then there’s a transition at quarterback, but again he’s playing really, really well right now.”

That transition at quarterback has apparently been a big part of helping Bailey get on track. In Hill's first start back against Denver, he and Britt hooked up repeatedly for Britt's best day as a Ram. With teams then more aware of Britt, it has opened more opportunities for Bailey over the past two weeks.

Bailey has taken advantage of those opportunities, setting a career high in receiving yards two weeks ago against San Diego with seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. He bettered that performance in an encore against Oakland last week in which he posted five catches for 100 yards.

"I’ve had lots of targets thrown my way and I’ve been able to capitalize on most of them and develop some good chemistry with Shaun," Bailey said. "He trusts me right now and I feel like I’m getting in a pretty good groove."

The key for Bailey now is to keep doing it consistently. He flashed similar promise near the end of last season but took those first 10 games before he offered more than special teams value this season. If Bailey can finish the season strong, Quick recovers and Britt returns, the Rams can finally feel pretty good about their receiving corps moving forward.

There's a lot of questions there, though, and only Bailey has the ability to supply his answer before the season is over.

"I think he’s real comfortable now, coming back," Schottenheimer said. "Dialed in on the system. Doesn’t surprise us, the catches that he makes, he makes those all the time out here. Got terrific body control, really good feet and those catches for him are kind of ... they’re just easy for him to make. Add him to the mix of the guys that we’ve got and try to spread people around and move the ball to different people.”