TSX Report: St. Louis Rams

Danario Alexander (Getty/G Newman Lowrance)

It seems like forever ago that Danario Alexander was lighting up Big 12 scoreboards. But it was only last year. In an injury-filled career at the University of Missouri, Alexander stayed healthy in 2009, catching 113 passes for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He was eager to put three left knee surgeries behind him and get ready for the NFL Draft. No such luck. Alexander suffered another injury to his left knee during a Senior Bowl practice last January, underwent another surgery, and braced himself for another round of rehab.

He worked through the offseason, sitting on the sideline for Missouri's Pro Day, watching 255 players picked in the draft without his name being called, still rehabbing his knee while OTAs and training camps opened.

"Watching the draft was painful," he admitted Wednesday following his first practice as a member of the Rams' 53-man roster. "It's your dream to get drafted. I sat home for a long time, and know I'm very anxious for the opportunity."

Alexander has worked both days this week in a receiver rotation with the first-team offense.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Alexander missed most of training camp and was signed by the Rams on Aug. 23 and added to the practice squad after the cut-down to 53 players. During his 50 days with the team, Alexander got his head into the playbook, lifted weights four days a week and got treatment five days a week as he worked to get his left leg stronger to overcome the atrophy that existed.

When wide receiver Mark Clayton suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday, the Rams signed him to the active roster, rewarding him with a four-year contract that included a signing bonus of $35,553.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "He knew he had a little bit of a road to overcome. It was a health issue, but he's kind of worked right in there. I know the guys like him. He's worked hard. He deserves it."

The question now is whether he will be play Sunday and what his role would be. Alexander said he's ready to do "whatever they want me to do. I'll do what I can for the team whether it's catching balls or playing special teams. Whatever they want me to do, I'm ready."

In addition to what he had to do physically, Alexander also worked hard learning the team's offense.

"I know it all," he said. "When I came in, I had to get in the playbook so I could get on the field to get where I'm at right now. I've been studying for this opportunity, and I'm going to take advantage of it."

Quarterback Sam Bradford, who played against Alexander in college, said, "I think Danario's done a great job. The bits that I've gotten to watch him when he was on scout team the past couple weeks, he's made some spectacular catches, some great plays. He's a big body, he's got a lot of speed, so I'm looking forward to getting him in the rotation and developing a chemistry with him."

Alexander relishes the opportunity and knows how it will feel whenever he plays for the first time.

"This team showed they liked me (with the contract)," he said. "It will be highly emotional when I play. I'm very appreciative of the chance the Rams have given me, and I want to get out there and produce for them."

- Steve Spagnuolo has his way of approaching the job, certainly based on the NFL coaches he's worked for in Philadelphia (Andy Reid) and New York (Tom Coughlin).

It is the same after losses, of which there have been 18 in two seasons as head coach of the Rams, wins (only three) or blowout defeats like the one experienced Sunday in Detroit.

As he told the media Monday, the day after a 44-6 loss to the Lions, "You're going to think I'm just saying this, but I'm just onto the next one. Disappointing, but game five ... moving onto game six. We'll be getting ready for San Diego the minute I walk right through there. We evaluate, we acknowledge the mistakes, we correct it, and we move onto the next challenge. I don't think that's ever going to change.

"I've said this before, and I'm going to say it whether you believe it or not: You get to Wednesday, you do the same thing. You go bang, bang, bang. At the end of the year, you add them all up. You hope you have enough to get in the playoffs, and then you start over again, take them one at a time. It sounds simple, sounds like a copout, but that's the way I've learned to do it. I believe that's how you do it. I learned it from a couple of really good head coaches."

The Rams had gained some momentum with two consecutive home wins, and they now face a difficult opponent in the Chargers, who are winless in three games on the road.

Spagnuolo's players have taken his message to heart. Said middle linebacker James Laurinaitis of the loss to Detroit, "I don't think it's a setback. I am not going to go down that road at all. I think this team is better than the way we played. We will look at it and correct it. That's all we can really do. We have to correct it and move forward.

"You don't have time in this league to sit there and talk about it. You fix it, and we'll do that (Monday) and then rest up on Tuesday and then get ready on Wednesday for another NFL Wednesday like we always have."

Asked whether the loss could damage the team's psyche, Laurinaitis said, "No. That's one thing I don't think it does. Obviously, none of us are happy with this. It's obviously not acceptable at all, but it doesn't damage our psyche. This is just a bad game on our part, and we just have to handle it and move forward.

Other players agreed. Said center Jason Brown, "As far as last year or two years ago, yeah, we're still called the St. Louis Rams. But we're not the same team. That was that team; that's not us anymore."

Safety Craig Dahl said, "It's a whole new year, we've got a lot of new guys in here, and I think we just have to build off the confidence that we had in the first four games."

Added safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, "(The loss) is not something that we're going to panic about. But we will learn from it, and we will be better from it."

The Rams also dismissed the notion that somehow they were overconfident after the two victories, thinking that games like Sunday's couldn't happen.

"That would be a heck of a thing to assume after two games," Long said. "I understand the ebb and flow of momentum. You win a couple of games and all of a sudden you are the favorite to do this and that then all of a sudden the sky is falling. We are going to try to keep it even keel. We won't get too low off this. We have to take our medicine and move on."

The realistic Spagnuolo noted how blowouts "happen to teams. There are teams that went to Super Bowls that during the season had one of those days. I'm hoping that it's the one and it's done and we move on."

Running back Steven Jackson did call the loss "an eye-opener, a wakeup call," and added, "Once we get back on another winning streak, which I believe will happen, we won't take anything for granted."

Finally, when asked how he guards against the team falling into the trap of starting to believe this could be another season like the last three, Spagnuolo said, "I don't think this team will do that. I might be way off, but I don't think this team will do that. ... The mind-set of this team is ... I like it. I like the look in their eye. I like the way they work. That doesn't guarantee a win, but I don't see the team doing that."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 5-4. The teams have played three times since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, with the Rams winning two, both in St. Louis in 2000 and 2002. The Chargers won in San Diego in 2006.

NOTES, QUOTES

- Many fans wondered why RB Steven Jackson was in the game Sunday against Detroit when the Rams got the ball with about seven minutes to play and the score 44-6.

On Monday, coach Steve Spagnuolo admitted he probably should have had Jackson on the sideline.

"In hindsight, I probably would've done that," Spagnuolo said. "I kind of got wrapped up in the competitiveness of just running our offense."

Meanwhile, Jackson wasn't happy with the characterization that the Lions contained him.

He said, "Their D-line didn't stop the run. It's hard when you get behind by so many points to continue to go to the run like we would like to. But (Kyle) Vanden Bosch and (Ndamukong) Suh, those guys, they did a great job of getting pressure on Sam (Bradford), flushing him out of the pocket and things like that. But I don't want to give them credit for stopping the run."

- Coach Steve Spagnuolo said there was nothing sinister behind Keith Toston handling the final four kickoff returns Sunday in Detroit after Mardy Gilyard had the first four.

"We were going to do some rotation in there anyway, more to get Keith acclimated," Spagnuolo said. "But Mardy's been doing a good job there."

As for Gilyard's expanding role as a receiver, Spagnuolo said, "(He) has been getting more reps every game. He's been getting more touches, and he's been getting better.

Concerning the receiver corps after the loss of Mark Clayton for the season, the coach said, "Brandon Gibson's getting better. Laurent Robinson is just coming off an injury, so he's kind of fighting that. We certainly don't feel good about losing Mark because he made a lot of plays for us, but we're going to find a way to overcome that somehow."

Gilyard missed most of the OTAs because of league rules and then was sidelined for a portion of training camp because of a wrist injury. He said he is now becoming comfortable with the offense.

"All in all, I've pretty much grasped the concept of the offense," he said. "I don't have it all the way down -- I'd be lying if I said I had it all the way down to the 'T' because it's a lot of stuff."

Gibson was inactive for the first two games of the season after being sidelined for some significant time in the offseason and camp because of an injured hamstring.

He said, "My biggest thing is just getting out there and trying to work through the tough spots. The dropped passes and not separating. That kind of stuff."

- Rookie TE Michael Hoomanawanui became a frequent target of QB Sam Bradford during the preseason, but his season hit a detour early when he suffered a high ankle sprain on the fourth play of the season opener. The original timetable was set at six to eight weeks, but he was close to returning last week, and he looks on schedule to play this week against San Diego, just five weeks after the injury occurred.

Said Hoomanawanui, "The trainers have done a good job of getting me back a little earlier than expected. I'm a quick healer, so I'm excited to be out there this weekend."

Asked if he can pick up where he left off during the summer, he said, "That's the plan. With Mark going down, everyone has to step up. Not just me; not just the tight ends. So the receivers, tight ends, running backs, everyone's going to have to step up."

- K Josh Brown is part of a scene in the movie "Jackass 3," which opens Friday. "I can't tell you what I do, but it involves a football," Brown said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2004 -- The last season in which the Rams won three consecutive road games. They ended the season with four straight victories at home over Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the Jets to make the playoffs with an 8-8 record. The win over the Eagles came with QB Donovan McNabb on the bench because the Eagles had clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sometimes you need a butt-whippin' to let you know where you really are." -- RB Steven Jackson after Sunday's 44-6 loss to Detroit.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

- RB Steven Jackson proclaimed his injured groin "100 percent" and said he doesn't need the layers of protective padding he wore two weeks ago against Seattle. On Sunday against Detroit, Jackson didn't wear everything he had the week before. He said after practice Thursday, "I feel great. All is well with the groin."

- LG Jacob Bell, who was limited in practice Wednesday as he recovered from a concussion, was cleared totally and fully participated in Thursday's practice.

- LB David Vobora, limited Wednesday because of a knee injury, did not practice Thursday.

- TE Billy Bajema, limited in practice Wednesday as he returned from a knee injury, fully participated in practice Thursday.

- CB Ron Bartell, who was limited in practice Wednesday because of a calf injury, fully participated in practice Thursday.

- CB Kevin Dockery, who was limited in practice Wednesday because of an injured hamstring, fully participated in practice Thursday.

- WR Danario Alexander practiced Thursday, working in a receiver rotation with the first team. He is expected to be active for Sunday's game against San Diego.

- RB Kenneth Darby was limited for the second straight day because of a shoulder injury suffered Sunday against Detroit.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers have been vulnerable to big plays on special teams, but the Rams haven't had many on their end. Field position will play a large part in whether the Rams can move the ball consistently on offense.

Defensively, they have to somehow keep QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates from having explosive games. The Chargers have lost games, though, even when Rivers has had a big day. Rivers' 9.61 average yards per attempt ranks first in the NFL, and his average per completion is 15.3. WR Malcom Floyd (498) and Gates (478) rank third and fourth respectively in the NFL in receiving yards. Floyd's average per catch is 22.6, while Gates' is 16.5.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams DEs James Hall and George Selvie vs. Chargers LT Marcus McNeill. Hall and Selvie have been doing a good job rushing the passer. They will be matched up against McNeill, who is expected to start for the first time this season after signing his restricted free agent tender late and then being on the roster exempt list for three games.

INJURY IMPACT: The bad news with the loss of WR Mark Clayton for the season will hopefully be offset by the return of TEs Billy Bajema and Mike Hoomanawanui. The latter is potentially more of a threat in the passing game than Bajema, who is a solid blocker.

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