Fells Finds His Niche
Thursday, October 1, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
At 6’4, 270 pounds, Daniel Fells is the type of player who instantly catches your attention when he steps off the bus.
When you see Fells run around the practice field with above average speed and you watch him catch everything in his vicinity as though he had a manicure at Elmer’s glue factory, you can’t help but think that when the football gods created a tight end, this is what he was supposed to look like.
“There is a lot to like,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Danny is one of those quote-unquote athletic tight ends. The team we are getting ready to play has two of them. Guys that can run, guys that are big, and guys that factor in the pass game. I think Danny does all of that.”
Fells has done all of that for the better part of the past three years but it hasn’t been noticed by many because most of it has been limited to various practice fields throughout the NFL.
For whatever reason, Fells has been a standout in practices since he signed as a rookie free agent with Atlanta in 2006 but the success he’s had there has just never translated to Sundays.
Never, that is, until last week. After putting in plenty of long hours in meeting rooms and on practice fields, Fells finally got that feeling of accomplishment when he caught two touchdowns from quarterback Kyle Boller on consecutive drives against Green Bay.
After the game, Fells was inundated with about 45 text messages from friends old and new alike.
But even in his moment of triumph, Fells wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate. He went home and had dinner with his wife.
“I have been waiting for the opportunity and it’s real nice but it’s real tough to take because we lost the game,” Fells said. “We wanted to win. It’s tough for us as a team. It’s a personal thing but that’s not what it’s about.”
Coming out of the University of California-Davis, in 2006, Fells flew under the radar because he suffered a broken ankle that limited him to six games as a senior.
Fells went undrafted but signed with Atlanta. Rams general manager Billy Devaney worked in Atlanta at the time and was part of the group that discovered Fells.
Fells made the roster but never got a chance to play for the Falcons and spent the next year bouncing to Oakland’s practice squad before moving to Tampa Bay in Jan. 2008.
Finally, on Sept. 3 of last season, Devaney and the Rams made the move to bring Fells to St. Louis.
Fells got a late start in getting acclimated to the offense and played in 12 games, making seven catches for 81 yards.
“I kind of joined the team a little bit late so it was hard to catch up and jump in,” Fells said.
Still, Fells’ immense skills were clearly evident to the Rams and entering camp, the opportunity became clear for Fells to earn more playing time.
Fells says he played in an offense similar to the one he worked in at college. And for the first time since his arrival in the league, Fells finally had the chance to start at square one with the rest of his teammates in learning an offense as opposed to having to play catch up.
“It’s a funny situation,” Fells said. “Pretty much everywhere I have been, pretty much everywhere I have been in the league, I have been working with a new offense. It’s kind of one of those things I got used to starting from scratch and going into situations to learn a whole new offense at the beginning of the season.”
In the Rams’ offense, tight ends are asked to do a little bit of everything. That’s why all three tight ends on the roster get plenty of playing time on Sundays.
Fells says he has leaned on his more experienced teammates to help him improve his game and an early vote of confidence from the likes of Spagnuolo and tight ends coach Frank Leonard have pushed him even further in his development.
“I have a lot of support around me,” Fells said. “Randy McMichael, Billy Bajema, the older guys have helped me along the way. The coaching staff believes in me and they have given me an opportunity. That makes me a better individual as well as a better player.
“I wanted to be crisper at running routes. I wanted to be more of a physical blocker. I wanted to help the team any way I could.”
While Fells’ production against the Packers didn’t earn him a starting job, it also won’t hurt his cause in getting more opportunities in the passing game. The Rams regularly use multiple tight end sets and the need for someone to stretch defenses down the seam in the passing game is an important part of the Rams’ offensive game plan.
Should Fells continue to make a positive impact in the passing game, there’s no doubt that he will continue to earn the trust of the coaching staff and the quarterback.
Chemistry with Boller was made apparent against the Packers and there’s no doubt that it could translate into even more success for Fells in the future.
“Danny’s a big guy,” Boller said. “A guy that I’ve always thought has great hands. Ever since April (when Boller signed with the Rams) he’s been making plays and a guy that I feel confident throwing the ball to.”