Hagans plays his way into the mix
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
History suggests that judging the Rams' Marques Hagans hastily is a mistake.
Early in his college career as a quarterback at Virginia, the speedy Hagans was regarded as a scrambler who wasn't much of a threat as a passer. But he worked on his throwing and improved dramatically.
In his final game for the Cavaliers, Hagans passed for 358 yards — a school record for a postseason game — and two touchdowns in a 34-31 Music Bowl victory over Minnesota.
"The heart and the energy, as well as the production that Marques provided us, was just a tremendous punctuation point to the career that he's had at Virginia," Cavs coach Al Groh told reporters. "He's been a special player for us."
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Hagans didn't look so special last year during his rookie training camp. His transition to wide receiver was bumpy, and the team's decision to spend a fifth-round draft pick on Hagans seemed dubious.
He spent the season on the practice squad, buying himself time to adjust to his new position.
"As hard as it was not to be on the team, to be on the practice squad helped me a lot," Hagans said. "It gave me a chance to really work on little things with my game. ... It definitely was a good learning experience."
One of the assistant coaches recently said Hagans had advanced more than any other player on offense, and coach Scott Linehan didn't disagree.
"Marques is definitely one of the guys who has really improved from where he was a year ago," Linehan said. "He had an excellent offseason, and now he's competing for a roster spot."
Hagans and Dominique Thompson appear to be the leading contenders for the No. 6 job at wideout, although newly acquired Fred Gibson could figure into the mix. Hagans and Thompson should see extensive action Friday in the preseason opener at Minnesota.
The toughest part of the move to wideout was learning to get off jams at the line of scrimmage and becoming a precise route runner, Hagans said. Once he was comfortable in those areas, he was able to hone his pass-catching skills.
"At any position, your talent will begin to emerge once you have a better feel for what you're doing and you can just let your talent take over," said Hagans, who also returns punts and kicks. "The main thing is, you've got to be consistent. That's what I'm focusing on."
As for making the 53-man roster, Hagans remains philosophical. "At the end of the day, where the cards fall, they fall," he said. "All I can worry about is trying to be the best player I can be every day."
Gibson, a fourth-round draft choice in 2005 who spent the last two seasons on Miami's practice squad, practiced with the Rams on Tuesday. Gibson, 6-4 and 202 pounds, recently was cut by Atlanta. ... To create a roster spot, the team reached an injury settlement with wideout Lamart Barrett, an undrafted rookie who was out with a dislocated shoulder. ... Tuesday's single practice was held indoors because of the heat.