Rookies to settle question Tuesday
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS --
Rookie cornerback Jonathan Wade issued an open challenge to fellow cornerback Tye Hill to settle the argument of who is the fastest Ram.
Asked this weekend during the St. Louis Rams' rookie minicamp if he'd be willing to duel Hill in a foot race, Wade said, "Tuesday. Tye, if you want me, I'm here."
Wade, the Rams' third-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft out of the University of Tennessee, is actually friends with Hill.
The two met during a college track meet. Hill, running for Clemson, and Wade competed for their respective schools on the same leg of a relay event.
"Ask him," Wade said of how he fared against Hill.
The two things that Wade doesn't lack are speed and confidence, the two most coveted qualities in cornerbacks.
Wade had a distinguished college track career. He was a member of two of three fastest 4x100 meter relay teams in Vols history, capturing 2005 indoor and outdoor All-American recognition.
Wade anchored Tennessee's 2003 SEC champion and NCAA outdoor runner-up 4x100 relay that clocked 38.72 in the NCAA finals.
Wade was the Vols' top 200-meter sprinter in 2004 with a season-best 20.79 and sprinted to a team-best 55-meter time of 7.36 at the Tennessee Invitational.
"The speed is there, but if you don't know how to use it, it does you no good," Wade said.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Wade doesn't like to being labeled as track athlete who plays football. He considers himself a football player first and foremost.
"People are going to say what they think," Wade said. "Even before that track season my junior year, I knew that my mind was on football. My love and my passion was football. Me winning a national championship (in track) could not compare to me watching somebody else make a tackle. When I'm out there on the field and my friend makes a tackle, it doesn't compare."
Wade spent the rookie minicamp this weekend working against the slot receiver in the Rams' nickel pass defense.
Wade said he was informed a couple of days before the minicamp that the Rams' coaching staff wanted him to learn the slot position.
"The slot is a very difficult position to play," Wade said. "I felt very honored for them to ask me to do it because if you are not really comfortable and confident playing corner, that's not where you want to be. There's a lot of bad things that can happen to you very quickly in the slot."
That's because there is no sideline to work against when defending the slot receiver.
"When you're the right corner, you have the sideline to your right," Wade said. "When you're in the slot, there is no sideline, just all field."
Wade also got some practice as a punt and kickoff returner.
"That's something I always wanted to do," Wade said. "If it's not soon, then maybe later on down the road. It's something I have strong passion (for)."
Wade was seldom used as a return in college.
"We were so short on numbers due to injuries that our coach didn't want to risk me getting hurt," Wade said.
At Evengel Christian High School in Shreveport, La., Wade was a three-year starter at cornerback and a two-year starter at wide receiver for a football program that went 54-3 and captured three Class 5A state titles and the 1999 national championship.
Wade was a wide receiver for his first two seasons at Tennessee, but then moved to cornerback prior to his junior season. He had 32 tackles and to interceptions as a junior and 52 tackles and six interceptions as a senior.
Wade said going against Tennessee wide receivers Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain. Meachem was taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, while Swain signed as an undrafted rookie with the Chicago Bears.
"Every single day at practice was a game between me and Robert and Jayson," Wade said. " If we were warming up, if we were doing one-on-ones, if we were doing 7-on-7 or during the team period, there was never a down period. At times, the coaches had to tell us to calm down."
Wade welcomed the opportunity to go against Rams wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in practice.
"Tye told me about it," Wade said. "He said Torry and Isaac are the best two receivers he has ever seen. He's like, 'And you get to be beat by them every day."'
Wade got his first taste of the NFL this weekend, and despite playing for major college, he could tell right away that it was a big step up in competition.
"In college, you have guys who are NFL-bound, maybe five or six per team," Wade said. "This is the NFL. Everybody is here for a reason. Everyone is here because they were blessed with skill at their position. No one is average here. Everyone is very good, and you have to perform every single snap."