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Frustrated on the ground, Rams' Gurley works on his receiving skills

Frustrated on the ground, Rams' Gurley works on his receiving skills
Rams running back Todd Gurley, making a one-handed catch against the Cardinals last weekend, has rushed for only 216 yards this season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Todd Gurley catches footballs before, during and sometimes long after Rams practices.

He requests extra pass routes with quarterbacks, and grabs ball after ball after ball shot out of a machine.

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The work paid off for the running back in last week's victory over Arizona. He caught five passes, including one that set up the game-winning touchdown.

"Man, I only caught like three balls and I guess I'm the best receiver now," he said, laughing, when asked Friday about his progress.  "Showing you can be a threat somewhere else, I think, that definitely can help us out a lot."

Of course, the best way for Gurley to help the Rams would be a return to the form he showed last season as a rookie, when he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

So far, there have been only glimpses.

With defenses loading up near the line of scrimmage to stop him, Gurley has averaged 54 yards rushing a game, and only 2.6 yards per carry. He has scored two touchdowns.

A running back who began his NFL career with a record 100-yard games in his first four starts has not reached that plateau this season. He has done it only once in his last 12 games.

The Rams are 3-1 and in first place in the NFC West going into Sunday's non-conference game against the Buffalo Bills (2-2) at the Coliseum.

But Gurley has been noticeably frustrated after each game.

"It's life," he said Friday when asked about the challenge of managing frustration. "Sometimes you kind of wonder what's going on.

"But you've got to look at the bigger picture. We're still winning,  3-1 and the running game hasn't been going good, so you always know there's room for improvement. So you've just kind of got to stay positive about everything."

Opposing teams' focus on stopping Gurley has created opportunities in the passing game for quarterback Case Keenum, receivers Brian Quick, Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin and tight end Lance Kendricks … and for Gurley, who also had a one-handed 33-yard reception against Arizona.

But the Rams apparently won't become a pass-first offense.

"You dress things up, but you you've got to stay with your bread and butter," Coach Jeff Fisher said, adding that run-game problems have "nothing to do with Todd, whatsoever. It's just a matter of getting him some opportunities."

Offensive coordinator Rob Boras said it was "an ongoing process" to figure out ways to get Gurley going.

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"We're taking a look at everything," he said. "Schematically, play calls, our technique at the point of attack, our decisions."

The Rams' offensive line is essentially the same group that led the way for Gurley during his breakout rookie season, but  center Tim Barnes said t the line must avoid breakdowns. It will be a challenge this week against a Buffalo front seven that will welcome back tackle Marcell Dareus from a suspension.

"Hate to say it but we've been so close on way too many plays," Barnes said. "We just hope we can eliminate that word 'close' and make it happen."

So does Gurley.

But he will continue to work on his receiving skills that accounted for 49 yards last week.

Gurley caught 65 passes in two-plus seasons at Georgia. He had 21 receptions for the Rams last season and has eight this season.

"Any time we can get him in space, he can make things happen," Boras said, "so it's obviously something we want to continue to build on."

Quick hits

Defensive ends William Hayes (ankle) and Robert Quinn (shoulder) and defensive tackle Michael Brockers (hip) did not practice and are listed as questionable. But Fisher sounded confident that some or all of them would play against the Bills. "We have a tendency of healing up," he said. "We still have some time. It's about being smart…. If they could practice, they would, but we're concerned about Sunday." …. An arraignment hearing for safety T.J. McDonald, who was charged last month with one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of drugs, was continued Friday to Oct. 16, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney's office said. McDonald was arrested in May in Woodland Hills after a collision with a parked car.

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