By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Conspicuous by their presence at the Rams' rookie minicamp over the weekend were a pair of 2006 draft picks: wide receiver Marques Hagans and linebacker Tim McGarigle.
Hagans and McGarigle spent the entire 2006 season on the Rams' practice squad, so they were eligible to participate in their second rookie minicamp in 12 months. Neither had a problem with that, however, because they're doing everything possible to make the 53-man roster this September.
"I didn't even think twice about it," Hagans said. "I jumped at the opportunity. So it wasn't like a slap in the face or anything like that. I was already looking forward to it, for the chance to get more work."
Ditto for McGarigle.
"Any time you can get any more reps, it's better for yourself and better for the team," McGarigle said. "I was actually excited to be out here this weekend."
There also were practical reasons for inviting Hagans and McGarigle. The only true rookie linebackers participating over the weekend, Quinton Culberson and Kevin McLee, are outside linebackers. McGarigle provided a middle 'backer and someone with a year's experience in the system who could help everyone get lined up correctly.
With five true rookie wide receivers working Saturday and Sunday, Hagans had a similar impact on those newcomers. Hagans is far from an expert at the position, however. In college at Virginia, he was a starting quarterback his final two seasons.
"I'm definitely a lot further than I was last year, having a chance to be a receiver for a full year," Hagans said. "But at the same time, I still know I've got a long way to go."
Hagans has put in extra time running routes against defensive backs whenever possible during the offseason. He has done speed work to get faster. And with an assist from teammate Corey Chavous, Hagans even has improved his diet and eating habits.
"Every Thursday, we meet up over at his house and he cooks dinner," Hagans said. "Last week, we had catfish, a little stir fry, corn on the cob. Me and a few other players. We watch some (NBA) basketball, watch a little bit of film, and have a good dinner."
Hagans, who also is working as a punt returner, faces a tight squeeze for a final roster spot. Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Drew Bennett, Dante Hall, and Dane Looker all seem assured of roster spots. (Looker has added value as Jeff Wilkins' holder on extra points and field goals.)
That could leave Hagans competing for a spot with 2007 draft pick Derek Stanley, 2006 practice squad member Dominique Thompson, and the five rookie free agents.
McGarigle has a bit of a clearer path. Will Witherspoon, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brandon Chillar, and Chris Draft all are assured of spots at linebacker. That leaves probably three openings, with returning backup Raonall Smith a leading candidate for one of those three.
McGarigle left Northwestern as the leading tackler in NCAA Division I-A history, with 545 career stops.
"I definitely am comfortable with my physical ability and my mental ability," McGarigle said. "I know I can play in this league, so I'm just going to work to make that final 53. … My goal is to be playing on all the special teams and work my way up from there."
As members of the practice squad last season, Hagans and McGarigle practiced with the team during the week but couldn't play in games.
"It was a very humbling year," McGarigle said. "There's a lot of great players in this league. Coming out of college … you get hit quick in the mouth with a little jab because you see how great these players really are."
Hagans said, "There were definitely days I wanted to cry. But I had to take it as a learning experience. It's very hard to come from college into the NFL and play on this level. But it's definitely hard to switch positions and expect to play in one year."