Monday, May 19, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
Like many undrafted free agents, Eric Bassey came to St. Louis before the 2007 season with little in the way of expectations. The one thing he did know, though, was that to stick on the Rams’ roster, he would have to become an asset on special teams.
For undrafted free agents, the opportunity to compete for a starting job is hard to find. So any chance to make a difference on the special forces is an important one.
Bassey took full advantage of the opportunity given him by coach Scott Linehan and special teams coach Al Roberts. He became one of the Rams’ best special teams players, making 12 special teams tackles with a fumble recovery after moving up to the active roster from the practice squad on Oct. 12.
With a solid special teams resume to his credit, Bassey has turned his attention to finding a way to make a difference on defense. To that end, the Rams have opted to move Bassey from his original cornerback spot to free safety.
It’s a move Bassey readily embraces, for he is willing to do whatever it takes to contribute in more ways that one.
“Last year, I kind of knew the role I had to take was getting on special teams and trying to make an impact there which I thought I did,” Bassey said. “So now, I am not neglecting that. I am building on the special teams but now maybe I can get a shot on defense and in the long run that is what you want. You want to build yourself up on special teams then get your shot on defense and I knew that was the route I would have to take.”
It wasn’t long ago that it seemed the long way to NFL prominence would be much easier for Bassey. A highly touted recruit as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, Bassey was plugged in as a starting strong safety as a freshman.
The following year, he made the move to cornerback, where he started the rest of his career.
An accomplished collegian, Bassey was entering the NFL from a prestigious program with a long list of achievements as a Sooner.
But scouts called Bassey a tweener, not sure if he was big enough for safety or fast enough for cornerback. He went undrafted before signing a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills.
Bassey spent a season on Buffalo’s practice squad before the Rams signed him to their own practice squad on Sept. 12.
The adjustment to the active roster went smoothly for Bassey, who slowly worked his way on to the various coverage units.
Not satisfied with simply playing that role, Bassey is making the move back to safety after almost six years away from the position.
“I think in the long run it will be better for me,” Bassey said. “I had some time at safety at Oklahoma and I think those were my most productive seasons. I had a lot more tackles and made more plays. I think it’s something with my size that it may be a better fit for me.”
The Rams coaches believe in Bassey and see potential for him to work in behind starter Oshiomogho Atogwe after an adjustment period back to the safety spot. At 6’1, 200 pounds, Bassey has the size and speed to play the position but knows he must adjust to all of the nuances of being off the island and in the box.
“Physically I think corner might be a little more demanding,” Bassey said. “Of course, you have to do a lot more with your hips and you have to be a little better athlete. It doesn’t hurt to be a great athlete at safety but it is definitely the mental preparation of the game. You have to spend more time in the film room.”
On the physical side, Bassey says he would like to add a little weight and play at about 205 to 208 pounds so he can hold up against the run a little better. He started working at safety a little at the end of last season.
Because of Bassey’s importance on special teams, Linehan said making the move became imperative to ensure he has a fair chance at landing a roster spot. The team drafted Justin King in the fourth round and signed David Macklin for depth at cornerback. With Fakhir Brown, Tye Hill, Ron Bartell and Jonathan Wade already in place, there was a chance the numbers crunch would have made Bassey’s training camp an uphill battle at corner.
“He has a much better chance of making the team at the safety position because of pure numbers,” Linehan said. “He did make his role felt for us as a special teams player for us last year, that’s why we brought him in and he has taken advantage of the opportunity to play and doing a good job there. I think he is making the transition to safety very well. It’s a little new to him, he played it his freshman year at Oklahoma but once he gets comfortable with that I think he will play much better.”
With Atogwe and Corey Chavous entrenched as starters at safety, Todd Johnson and Jerome Carter figure to be Bassey’s chief competition for a spot. That’s five players for what could be four spots.
For now, Bassey isn’t worried about training camp battle so much as finding his way at his new (old) position. For that, he is taking advantage of every opportunity to learn from the veterans the Rams have at the position, especially Chavous, who has a reputation as one of the best leaders in the locker room.
“I was just telling him that today,” Bassey said. “I was like, ‘I’m so glad I have got ya’ll out here.’ Right now, I’m the only younger safety who hasn’t played but I can look to my left or right and see Corey or OJ out there and see what they are doing and feed off of them. They are a blessing, I know that.”