Receiving hopefuls still are looking to catch on
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Marques Hagans didn't even watch the NFL draft in April, so it took a teammate — fellow Rams wide receiver Derek Stanley — to be the bearer of ill tidings.
"Stanley called me and told me (the Rams) had drafted two receivers," Hagans said.
Uh, oh. Just when Hagans, a college quarterback at Virginia, was starting to feel comfortable about his transition to NFL wide receiver, along came Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton.
"I don't run the organization," Hagans said. "I play football. So all I can worry about is being the best receiver that I can be, and whatever happens, happens. Obviously, they saw a reason to draft two receivers — and they're pretty good. So that makes the team better. Competition is always a good thing."
That's probably one of our best depth spots," coach Scott Linehan said. "It's going to be our hardest decision on those guys at the end of the roster. We're going to have to ultimately cut some good players that we're really high on. That's a good problem to have, but it's also tough."
Here's the landscape at wide receiver:
— After a season on the practice squad in 2006, Hagans earned a spot on the Rams' active roster in 2007 after a strong preseason in which he led the team in catches (13), reception yards (166), and accounted for three of the club's four exhibition touchdowns.
— Brandon Williams, the pride of Hazelwood East High, entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick by San Francisco via the University of Wisconsin in '06. He has 23 NFL regular-season games on his résumé (including seven with the Rams), during which time he has returned 73 punts and kickoffs.
— Derek Stanley, a seventh-round Rams pick a year ago from Wisconsin-Whitewater, was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad for the final three regular-season games of '07, and averaged a team-high 25.5 yards on 20 kickoff returns.
— Reche Caldwell, a veteran of six NFL seasons, has 152 regular-season catches and 11 TDs on his résumé. Just two seasons ago, he caught 61 balls for the New England Patriots.
There's a strong possibility that none of those four will make the Rams' final roster, unless the team decides to carry more than six wide receivers into the regular season because of injuries to Dante Hall (ankle) and Drew Bennett (groin). But unless something totally unforeseen happens, Hall, Bennett, Avery, Burton and some guy named Torry Holt have a lock on five of the six spots.
And based on his versatility, his special teams value, his veteran leadership, and his team-high totals of nine catches for 117 yards this preseason, Dane Looker seems very much in line for the sixth spot.
In comparison, Hagans, Williams, Stanley and Caldwell have a combined seven catches for 71 yards this preseason.
So that makes tonight's preseason finale at Kansas City, the Bubble Bowl for those players and many more. Like all NFL teams, the Rams must reach the regular-season roster limit of 53 players by Saturday afternoon. That means 23 Rams must be cut on Friday and Saturday.
"I've never been in this position before," Williams said. "You've just got to get in, and when you get the ball, make plays as much as possible. You can't worry about things you can't control."
No matter how bleak the numbers game may look for some players, today's 6 p.m. kickoff provides one last chance to impress the head coach.
"It's never too late," Linehan said. "You're looking for any opportunity you get, and taking advantage of it. Everybody's chasing that Quinton Culberson-type dream. There's guys that have done it, and they've done it because they've come out when the lights went on and have made plays. That's kind of what we're looking for. ..."
Culberson played himself onto the 53-man roster last season as an undrafted rookie. This year, it looks like he has played himself into the starting lineup at strongside linebacker.
Last preseason, in part because of Culberson's strong play, linebacker Tim McGarigle was squarely on the bubble after missing the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury. But McGarigle, a seventh-round Rams pick in '06, registered seven tackles and a touchdown-preventing interception in the preseason finale.
As a result, the Rams found a way to keep both Culberson and McGarigle on the final 53.
As Linehan put it, "Injuries slow you down, but they don't eliminate you."
Re: Receiving hopefuls still are looking to catch on
Given his play as of late, I'm assuming that Looker will get the nod. He was the man last year from almost bleeding out when his quad came loose from his thigh bone and then coming back to play that year! If anyone has a chance at being #7, it's Stanley, just because he's trying to fit into the Troy Brown mold, and those kinds of guys can be very useful.
Personally, I've always been partial to Hagans, though my bet is that he'll be gone, but hopefully he'll get picked up elsewhere that's receiver-needy.
I also think Caldwell and Williams are out as well. Caldwell is possible trade bait, because of his experience. We wouldn't get more than a 7th for him, but a 7th for free is good enough for me! Only reason anyone would trade for him is just so that they can guarantee getting him, like Ryan Grant to the Pack last year.
Re: Receiving hopefuls still are looking to catch on
I thought Caldwell would be further along at this point, but I guess knowing the system isn't that much of a head-start.