Sunday, May 14, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Ed Nelson is only about a month and a half removed from playing in the NCAA basketball tournament. But the experience of March Madness has been nothing compared to the craziness that followed.

The former University of Connecticut power forward made his football debut with the Rams on Saturday and is participating in this weekend’s minicamp as a tight end.

“Everything is such a rush right now,” Nelson said. “Every day I am learning new things and working on blocking, receiving and right now trying to understand the plays. Everything is coming at me at once. I am just trying to step back and take a look at what’s going on.”

The onslaught of information that continues to fly at Nelson probably won’t stop anytime soon as he attempts to make the transition from hoops to the gridiron like San Diego’s Antonio Gates before him.

Of course, this transition is going to be even more difficult for Nelson, who hasn’t played football since his freshman year of high school.

“I haven’t put on a helmet in a while,” Nelson said. “I put it on today and it really didn’t make a difference. When I put it on, it was like ‘All right, this is really going on right now.’ I went out there and I’m ready.”

At 6’7, 266 pounds, Nelson certainly has the size to make a successful transition to the football field from the basketball court. He was a reserve forward for UConn for the past two seasons after transferring from Georgia Tech.

Nelson played in 60 games for the Huskies, averaging 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Upon finishing his collegiate career, Nelson sat down with UConn coach Jim Calhoun to discuss his future in professional basketball.
After agreeing that Nelson could probably get a chance in some professional basketball leagues, Calhoun told Nelson about a different opportunity that could present itself.

Calhoun set Nelson up with a meeting with agent Joe Linta. During that meeting, Linta told Nelson that he could have an opportunity to play tight end and make it in the NFL.

Immediately, Linta set up a Pro Day for Nelson to work out for NFL scouts at Connecticut. After knocking off some rust, Nelson put together a solid workout, running the 40-yard dash in 4.95 seconds with little training for it previously.
Nelson’s workout was good enough to impress some of the 16 scouts in attendance including the Rams’ contingent.

While it was unlikely that a player of Nelson’s experience would be drafted, he hoped to latch on to a team soon after the draft.

The Rams showed immediate interest after the draft and quickly agreed to a two-year contract with Nelson. Now, Nelson is doing his best to learn the intricacies of the position.

“I just graduated college, but this is probably the hardest class I have ever taken,” Nelson said. “Every night I am studying my book. I know it all isn’t going to come to me in three days so I am not going to learn all the terminology, every play in three days, but I’m just trying to grasp a concept and show that I am a fast learner. I’ll go out there and catch a pass and show a spark.”

Nelson is well aware that he still has a long way to go to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Gates, Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez and Detroit’s Marcus Pollard as former power forwards playing tight end, but he is doing his best to learn the ropes piece by piece.

“Sometimes it’s hard to go full throttle when you are hearing plays and you are thinking about the playbook and which way to go,” Nelson said. “But coach is real understanding about knowing it’s going to take me a while to understand the plays again so I just went out there and caught a pass and that got me feeling good. I am just watching and building and I am going to go out and just play hard.”

Nelson hopes that in showing his ability to catch the ball and work hard, he will be able to settle in. That approach helped in his first practice as any nerves he might have had disappeared after making a few catches.

“I went through the drills, I caught every pass that was thrown to me and I caught a pass in the scrimmage so the plays will come, but as long as I show I am capable of doing things, that’s good,” Nelson said.