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Long shots make their mark with Rams
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Long shots, like CB Dwight Anderson (above), are taking full advantage of their chance to try and make the Rams roster.
MACOMB, Ill. - NFL players come in all shapes and sizes, and from all kinds of colleges. But whether you come from South Carolina, or South Dakota . . . Colorado, or Colorado School of Mines . . . Washington, or Eastern Washington . . . Arizona, or Akron . . . if you're good enough to get a chance, you just may get a job.
With three exhibition games remaining, and cutdown days fast approaching, here's a look at four roster long shots trying to latch on with the Rams:
CB Dwight Anderson: Traveling Jamaican
Anderson didn't grow up dreaming of the NFL in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Heck, you couldn't even watch it on television.
"It was either cricket, soccer, or track," he said.
Anderson's sports were soccer and track - even after he moved to the United States in 1992 at age 11. But one day at Bloomfield (Conn.) High, he watched the football team practice and was intrigued.
"I want to try that," he told himself.
Not surprisingly, he was a kicker as a freshman.
"Sophomore year, I started playing wide receiver and DB," Anderson said. "The (varsity) coach saw me playing JV, and he was like, 'All right, we're going to move you up. See what you can do up here on the varsity level.' And from there, it just exploded."
Anderson, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., played junior college ball at Arizona Western in Yuma. He finished college with the South Dakota Coyotes, and now he's been to Macomb and St. Louis trying to make the Rams' roster as an undrafted rookie.
"I've been going across the country," Anderson said. "I've almost done all 50 states now. I'm having fun with it."
If the Rams keep five corners, he has a chance. If not . . .
"I think I've got a chance," Anderson said. "If I just keep working hard, something's going to pay off. I'm not really thinking about getting cut."
Anderson looks the part. He has 4.35 speed and doesn't seem overwhelmed on the field. What he needs is work on technique and focus. And no more silly penalties, like his costly holding penalty last week against Chicago.
"It was an iffy call," Anderson said. "But you know the refs, they're cutting down on a lot of that holding."
WR Brian Sump: Building a career
With about a semester's worth of additional work at the Colorado School of Mines, Sump will earn his degree in civil engineering. He's in no hurry. Before he starts building dams and bridges, he'd like to build an NFL career.
Sump made a name for himself at the School of Mines as a wide receiver and kick returner. He was a two-time special teams player of the year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, returning six kicks for touchdowns (five kickoffs and one punt). Despite those achievements, Sump realizes he was a big fish in a small pond.
"I played Division II ball in a notably weak conference," he said. "I only played one year of football in high school, so I didn't have a lot of offers coming out. It was just a chance to play."
His lack of experience showed last summer, when he tried to land a job with San Diego as a rookie free agent.
"It was tough," Sump said. "I struggled a little bit, and I had a lot to learn.."
He was cut after camp, and was out of football until making the Los Angeles Avengers team last spring in the Arena Football League. (Sump never played for the Avengers because of a back injury.)
With the Rams, Sump faces the daunting task of trying to crack one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL. Sump looks quick and has displayed good hands on the practice field. But exactly who is he going to beat out among the Rams' wideouts? Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Dane Looker, Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis all figure to be around for a while.
"You can only do the things you can do." Sump said. "And control the things that you can control. Hopefully, good things will happen."
P Jesse Nicassio: Learning from a legend
Nicassio was 2 years old when current teammate Sean Landeta launched his first professional punt, for the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL.
"He's a great man," Nicassio said. "To come into camp and be under a guy like that is a great opportunity for me to learn more."
But Landeta, 42, can't last forever, can he?
"Maybe," Nicassio said, laughing.
What must he do to beat out Landeta? "Punt well. Punt very, very well," Nicassio said.
He may be a neophyte by Landeta standards, but Nicassio has been punting well for a while. As a sixth-grader for the Oak Park (Calif.) Chargers little league team, Nicassio and his teammates were instructed to line up and try kickoffs.
"Whoever kicked it the furthest was the kicker," Nicassio said. "The next thing I knew, I was the kicker."
A year or two later, he was taking lessons. By the time he was a high school freshman, his goal was a college scholarship. He got that scholarship - just not right away.
Nicassio walked on at Washington State, and then came to the realization that he'd never get a chance there. After one season, he transferred to Citrus Junior College in Glendora, Calif. After two seasons in the JC ranks, he got a scholarship to Eastern Washington - summer home of the Seattle Seahawks. Nicassio made it a habit of watching Tom Rouen punt for the Seahawks during camp.
"I knew I could easily punt in the NFL after watching," said Nicassio, not lacking for confidence.
Even though he finished fourth in the NCAA in punting last season with a school-record 44.4-yard average, he went undrafted.
"But I knew I'd get my chance, and when I did, I'd shine," Nicassio said. "That's all I want. I just want a chance."
TE Mike Brake: The "Emergency" Brake
Sometimes, the best way to make an NFL roster is to win a battle of attrition. That strategy might work out for Brake. While veteran Cam Cleeland (hamstring) and seventh-round draft pick Erik Jensen (knee) were sidelined with injuries for most of the Rams' time in Macomb, Brake was making his presence felt.
"It's unfortunate that those two guys went down," Brake said. "But that gives me a chance to get out there and show what I can do."
Brake, who played his college ball at Akron, has good size at 6-4, 256. He sometimes looks awkward on the practice field. And he occasionally gets overpowered as a blocker. But he keeps finding a way to catch the football.
Brake had a 24-yard reception against Chicago in last week's exhibition game. With the injuries to Cleeland and Jensen, he has become the No. 2 tight end behind Brandon Manumaleuna. That has led to plenty of time on the practice field with the starters over the past two weeks - and more and more balls thrown his way.
So far, the mental part of the game has been as challenging as the physical for Brake.
"Each day, there's something new going in," Brake said. "You've got to keep on top of it. If you slow down for a bit, then you're going to be lost. The big challenge for me is just keeping mentally into it every day.
"I've made my mistakes. You've just got to learn from them. The one thing that Coach (Mike Martz) doesn't like is making the same mistake twice. So I've been avoiding that as much as I can."
In college, Brake was used primarily as a blocker in his first three seasons for the Zips. But that changed as a senior, when he caught 28 balls for 459 yards and five TDs. He didn't get drafted. He didn't even get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. But at the moment, he has a good chance of make the Rams' roster as the No. 3 tight end.
"All I want is an opportunity," he said. "I'm getting that. You can't ask for anything more."
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Re: Long shots make their mark with Rams
that was a good read. thanks for posting it.
Re: Long shots make their mark with Rams
very welcome ;-)
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