I'm worried about Mardy Gilyard. A couple weeks back the excellent St. Louis Rams site Turf Show Times passed along an opportunity to speak with rookie WR Mardy Gilyard. Finding the enigmatic Gilyard to be one of the few players in the NFL with a discernable personality, I solicited questions on Twitter, packed up my camcorder, and headed out to Brentwood to meet up.
Mardy Gilyard could be any 23 year-old you know. He's relentlessly moving. Overly concerned about his phone(s). A constant ball of motion that isn't easy to keep focused for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Before you're ready, he's on to the next one. And so it goes.
Gilyard is an interesting man.
For a period of time in his youth he was homeless. After gaining a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, he was booted off the team for "maturity issues" and forced to sleep in his car for over 6 months.
During this, Gilyard worked multiple jobs, re-dedicated himself to the sport, and came back on to the team, eventually leading the Bearcat program to heights that it may never see again. His experience being homeless gives him a unique perspective on his rise to the NFL: "You can say I came to the Rams from the green Grand Am instead of the green room," Gilyard told the USA Today after he was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft.
During our 45 minutes together he admitted that he listens to rap songs of his own devising before games. He loves to cook more than anything and can't wait to get to retirement so he can eat whatever he wants. His interests are varied and far-flung. He's not football-bot.
I won't pretend to know what Mardy thinks about. It's not fair to him.
But I can safely assume that whatever is going on in his head isn't football 24/7. In the video piece included on this post, you can hear him talk about the massive NFL playbook and how it was a surprise to him just how complex and thorough it was. You'll also hear him talk freely and smartly on a number of other topics that have nothing to do with football.
He's obviously a smart guy. And he's got other interests besides professional football. That's refreshing, and makes for some damn good copy. But nine times out of 10, it's the guys that work the hardest in the NFL coming out on top.
Mardy has had a rough rookie season. Even with a severely depleted receiving corps, he's struggled to find playing time for the Rams. Reports have continually surfaced that his grasp of the offense isn't to the level where offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and head coach Steve Spagnuolo can trust him to know his assignments on every single play. The overwhelming play-making ability that just a year ago was displayed all over ESPN and the college football landscape has vanished.
And that's why I worry.
When Mardy was drafted by the Rams, I was pumped. Even though the team needed a big #1 threat a la Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson, Gilyard was one of those guys who got the ball and made things happen. The ascension of DeSean Jackson as a premiere receiver while Donnie Avery was selected sooner in the 2008 draft made Gilyard not only hope for the future, but atonement for a missed opportunity.
Nearing the close of the 2010 season, it's obvious that #81 isn't going to just strap on pads and impact the NFL the way we hoped. But with great talent comes a responsibility. To do every single thing you can possibly do to get back to the place where returning kick-offs for 50-yard rips and making tacklers look foolish in the open field is de rigeur. And it seems to me that Mardy just isn't that pissed off about his situation.
Listen, I spent 45 minutes with the guy. He had his picture on a Pepsi can and If it was me, I'd be in a good mood, too. He was in a great mood. But two days after a crushing loss, in the midst of a surprise playoff run, where the biggest opportunity of your entire life is right there in the cross-hairs... it just seems to me like he could be doing more to assert himself on the St. Louis Rams.
Maybe he is.
Maybe I'm completely wrong. But a week after the San Francisco loss at home versus Atlanta, Mardy wasn't on the field much and got zero targets on a day when Sam Bradford passed 42 times. In fact, his last catch was in week 6 against San Diego. He's only had six receptions on the year. That's not what anyone hoped for or expected. Especially when Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery went down for the season.
And if Gilyard wasn't more talented than Laurent Robinson or Brandon Gibson, we wouldn't be writing this article right now. He is, though. He has the ability to make a difference in the NFL. The question, though, is how bad does he want it? Is it the MOST important thing in his life?
I worry, because I like.
Mardy Gilyard is one of the most fun, personable and down-to-earth millionaires that I've met. Every single fan that met Mardy the day I did is rooting for him to succeed. He's the kind of guy that makes you root for him hard. It's the reason that he's a legend in Cincinnati.
Once again, Mr. Gilyard finds himself at a cross-road in life.
He's already fought back once. Let's hope, at least professionally, that he does it again.