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St. Louis Rams' Billy Bajema Surprises At Tight End

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  • St. Louis Rams' Billy Bajema Surprises At Tight End

    St. Louis Rams' Billy Bajema surprises at tight end

    By Jim Thomas
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    08/25/2009


    In life, as in football, it's always good to have a backup plan. Billy Bajema certainly thought so growing up in football-mad Oklahoma.

    "I always wanted to play in the NFL," Bajema said. "But I wanted to have a backup plan if it ever didn't work out."

    His backup plan was more ambitious than most football players at Oklahoma State, or anywhere else, for that matter.

    "My degree was actually in business, but I did the pre-med program in college," Bajema said. "Initially, I was interested in orthopedic surgery. I thought it'd be fun to work on athletes and go that route. But I'd rather be playing than working on 'em."

    So instead of having a Dr. in front of his name, Bajema has a TE — as in tight end. Originally a seventh-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2005, Bajema (pronounced BADGE-uh-muh) signed a three-year free-agent contract with St. Louis at the end of March.

    To say that Bajema is the Rams' backup plan at tight end behind Randy McMichael would be selling him short. Two tight end sets are commonplace in the NFL, and if the Rams are truly serious about running the football, Bajema could be on the field a lot. He had 11 starts last season for the *****, all in multiple tight end sets with usual starter Vernon Davis.

    Bajema, 26, came to St. Louis with a reputation as a blocking specialist, and he already looks like an upgrade over Anthony Becht, who had that role last year. The surprise has been Bajema's pass-catching ability. No one will confuse him with Tony Gonzalez or even teammate McMichael on that score. But he's displayed good hands as well as some yards-after-the-catch ability so far.

    "Everybody wants to say Billy's a blocking tight end, but Billy can get down the field," McMichael said. "He can catch the ball really well. ... Billy can play ball. A lot of people didn't really get a chance to notice him in San Fran with Vernon (Davis) and everything, but Billy's a very good player."

    Granted, it was against the second- and third-stringers of Atlanta's defense, but Bajema's pass-catching skills were on display Friday at the Edward Jones Dome.

    "He was making catches out there," coach Steve Spagnuolo said after the game. "And what I thought was impressive is what he did after he caught it. He got a lot of positive yards. He's a big guy, and I'm sure the guys that tackled him will be a little bit sore tomorrow."

    Bajema finished with three catches for 42 yards against the Falcons, including receptions of 17 and nine yards on a fourth-quarter field goal drive. Overall this preseason, Bajema has four catches for 51 yards, second in both categories to Laurent Robinson (seven for 117) on the team.

    That's a lot of action for someone who had only seven catches in 61 games with San Francisco.

    "I had five (catches) my rookie year, and then I had two years where I didn't even get a ball my way," Bajema said. "And a couple last year. So yeah, it was a lot of fun getting some balls thrown my way.

    "I've had confidence in my hands and receiving ability, and continue to feel like I've improved on it throughout my time in the NFL. It's just that in San Francisco, that's not what they used me for."

    Bajema, 6-4, 256 pounds, began his football career throwing passes, not hoping for the occasional opportunity to catch them. At Westmoore High in Oklahoma City, he was a quarterback, defensive end and safety.

    He played well enough at quarterback that Stanford and Texas Christian showed some interest. But at the end of the day, Bajema got no scholarship offers from colleges interested in him at QB.

    Oklahoma State gave him the option of defensive end or tight end. He took one look at the Cowboys' well-stocked depth chart at defensive end and chose tight end.

    "I thought I had a chance to get on the field a little earlier that way," Bajema said. "So I've been a tight end ever since."

    But even as a tight end, Bajema brought some defensive mentality to the position.

    "I've been a guy that's enjoyed the physical nature of the game my whole life," he said. "Yeah, I like to hit people. I like to get in the trenches and block and do those things. I love that part of the game."

    Bajema did more than hit the opposition in college; he hit the books. He made the Big 12 Conference Commissioner's Honor Roll six times and finished with a 3.7 grade-point average.

    Following his senior year, he was the inaugural recipient of the Bobby Bowden Award, a national honor by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes recognizing achievement on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

    "Fellowship of Christian Athletes is something that's always been a big thing with me, and I was really involved with in college, and still am," Bajema said.

    With the Rams, Bajema plans to be involved most with blocking. And if an occasional pass comes his way, all the better. That backup plan — med school — has never looked so far off.

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  • MauiRam
    Bajema no longer just a blocking tight end ..
    by MauiRam
    Bajema no longer just a blocking tight end

    BY BILL COATS • Friday, December 3, 2010 12:25 am

    Sam Bradford was incredulous. "That blows my mind," he said. "I didn't know that until you said that right now, but to hear that ... it blows my mind."

    The Rams' rookie quarterback had just been informed that for two years in San Francisco, tight end Billy Bajema didn't catch a single pass. "The things he's able to do for this offense," Bradford continued, "the way he catches the ball — he's got great hands — it's hard to believe he went two full seasons without a catch."

    That was 2006 and 2007, when the ***** had three pass-catching tight ends in Eric Johnson, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Those three combined for 177 receptions over those two seasons, with Bajema, a seventh-round draft pick in 2005 who had five catches his rookie year, relegated to a less-flashy assignment.

    "For a period of time, that was pretty much just to be a blocker. So that's what I had to do," he said. "I always felt like I wanted to do more, and I was never satisfied with the role of being exclusively a blocker. That part of it was frustrating.

    "But always, I hoped for an opportunity to do more."

    That opportunity has arrived for the 6-foot-4, 259-pound Bajema, 28.

    Already this season, he nearly has matched his career total for catches. He had just seven in four years with the ***** before joining the Rams as a free agent in 2009. He added eight last year and has 11 this season for a career-high 106 yards.

    Before joining the Rams, Bajema never recorded more than one reception in a game. He had two last year at Detroit and this season has hauled in three passes three times.

    That includes last Sunday's game at Denver, when Bajema caught a touchdown pass for the first time in the NFL. In fact, he caught two — a 2-yarder and a 26-yarder over his shoulder — in a span of 2 minutes, 52 seconds in the second quarter of the Rams' 36-33 victory.

    "That was a heck of a catch he made on his second one," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It was nice to see him get that."

    QB becomes TIGHT END

    A raw-boned yet agile athlete, Bajema played football, baseball and basketball at Westmoore High in Oklahoma City. He was a 230-pound quarterback who piqued the interest of a couple of schools that wanted him to continue in that position.

    "But most colleges just saw a big guy who was a good athlete and wanted me to play either defensive end or tight end or linebacker," Bajema said. "I ended up committing to Oklahoma State and saw their tight end situation, and it looked like a position (where) I could get on the field sooner than probably the other positions I could have chosen.

    "So...
    -12-03-2010, 12:39 PM
  • RamWraith
    TE Billy Bajema visits St. Louis Rams
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch


    Just a few days after releasing blocking specialist Anthony Becht, the St. Louis Rams are auditioning a potential replacement at tight end.

    Billy Bajema, who has spent his first four seasons with San Francisco, was in St. Louis on Tuesday on a free-agent visit. Bajema, 26, is 6-4, 256 pounds. The Oklahoma City native played quarterback in high school but switched to tight end in college at Oklahoma State.

    Bajema (pronounced BA-ju-MAH) was a four-time all-Big 12 Academic honoree in college who had a double major in general business and pre-med.

    A seventh-round draft pick by the ***** in 2005, Bajema has appeared in 61 NFL game with 26 starts. Most of those starts have come as part of two tight end sets with Vernon Davis. Bajema has caught only seven passes for 88 yards in the NFL.

    His only other known visit has been to the New York Jets, although a couple of other teams have expressed interest.

    Becht, who will turn 32 during training camp this August, was so-so at best in the blocking tight end role in 2008, his only season with the Rams. He did play through an elbow injury, however, undergoing elbow surgery to remove bone chips on Dec. 30. His release saved the team $1 million.
    -03-18-2009, 05:30 AM
  • ramfan247
    Fells' stock rises at tight end for Rams
    by ramfan247
    Fells' stock rises at tight end for Rams


    By BILL COATS
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH


    05/31/2009


    The subject was tight end Randy McMichael and his return to the Rams after missing most of last season with an injury. Unprompted, quarterback Marc Bulger added this:

    "Daniel Fells is also playing lights out. I think we'll have a couple tight ends that can do some things."

    Apprised of that assessment, Fells smiled broadly and said, "That's good to hear. When your quarterback gives you a shout out, it's always a good feeling."

    A year ago, Bulger probably never had heard of Fells, who had bounced around the NFL for a couple of years. Undrafted out of California-Davis, Fells was inactive for all 16 games with Atlanta in 2006, then spent 2007 on Oakland's practice squad.


    He made Tampa Bay's practice squad last summer, and the Rams signed him to their 53-man roster Oct. 6, shortly after McMichael suffered a season-ending leg injury.

    Fells, 25, suited up for a regular-season game for the first time Oct. 12 at Washington. He made his first reception — for a 26-yard gain — Nov. 23 vs. Chicago, and finished the season with seven catches for 81 yards.

    But it was the sticky hands that Fells showed during the weeks of practice that really got him noticed. He's continued to impress during the Rams' first offseason program under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

    "He's very athletic, been making a lot of plays," Spagnuolo said after practice Friday. "We don't know the blocking part yet, because we don't have the pads on. But I'm very pleased."

    And open-minded about giving players a chance to show off their skills, Spagnuolo stressed. "There's a lot of guys out here like that, and they're all going to get it," he said. "This is the land of opportunity right now."

    The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Fells — nicknamed "Big Smooth" by his teammates — has moved past Joe Klopfenstein, the team's second-round draft choice in 2006, into the No. 2 spot behind McMichael. If Fells can stick there, he figures to get plenty of balls thrown his way in the West Coast-style offense that coordinator Pat Shurmur is installing.

    "In the passing game we're trying to put in, the quarterback distributes the ball to a lot of people, (including) the backs and the tight ends," Spagnuolo said. "People think that the pass game is just wide receivers. In this league nowadays, you've got to defend everybody."

    Sets featuring two tight ends are common, which means that McMichael and Fells could be on the field together a lot.

    "The West Coast system is very, very versatile for the tight end," Fells said. "They have the tight ends moving around a lot, got us in the backfield a little
    ...
    -05-30-2009, 11:30 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Fells Finds His Niche
    by r8rh8rmike
    Fells Finds His Niche
    Thursday, October 1, 2009


    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    At 6’4, 270 pounds, Daniel Fells is the type of player who instantly catches your attention when he steps off the bus.

    When you see Fells run around the practice field with above average speed and you watch him catch everything in his vicinity as though he had a manicure at Elmer’s glue factory, you can’t help but think that when the football gods created a tight end, this is what he was supposed to look like.

    “There is a lot to like,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Danny is one of those quote-unquote athletic tight ends. The team we are getting ready to play has two of them. Guys that can run, guys that are big, and guys that factor in the pass game. I think Danny does all of that.”

    Fells has done all of that for the better part of the past three years but it hasn’t been noticed by many because most of it has been limited to various practice fields throughout the NFL.

    For whatever reason, Fells has been a standout in practices since he signed as a rookie free agent with Atlanta in 2006 but the success he’s had there has just never translated to Sundays.

    Never, that is, until last week. After putting in plenty of long hours in meeting rooms and on practice fields, Fells finally got that feeling of accomplishment when he caught two touchdowns from quarterback Kyle Boller on consecutive drives against Green Bay.

    After the game, Fells was inundated with about 45 text messages from friends old and new alike.

    But even in his moment of triumph, Fells wasn’t much in the mood to celebrate. He went home and had dinner with his wife.

    “I have been waiting for the opportunity and it’s real nice but it’s real tough to take because we lost the game,” Fells said. “We wanted to win. It’s tough for us as a team. It’s a personal thing but that’s not what it’s about.”

    Coming out of the University of California-Davis, in 2006, Fells flew under the radar because he suffered a broken ankle that limited him to six games as a senior.

    Fells went undrafted but signed with Atlanta. Rams general manager Billy Devaney worked in Atlanta at the time and was part of the group that discovered Fells.

    Fells made the roster but never got a chance to play for the Falcons and spent the next year bouncing to Oakland’s practice squad before moving to Tampa Bay in Jan. 2008.

    Finally, on Sept. 3 of last season, Devaney and the Rams made the move to bring Fells to St. Louis.

    Fells got a late start in getting acclimated to the offense and played in 12 games, making seven catches for 81 yards.

    “I kind of joined the team a little bit late so it was hard to catch up and jump in,” Fells said.

    Still, Fells’ immense skills were clearly...
    -10-03-2009, 12:21 AM
  • MauiRam
    Rams have a crowd at tight end ..
    by MauiRam
    BY BILL COATS Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:00 am

    Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff will have some difficult decisions when it comes time to whittle the 80-man training camp roster to the regular-season limit of 53. One of the toughest figures to be at tight end.

    "I was kind of going through that the other morning. Very stiff'' competition, Spagnuolo said. "The young guys are pretty good football players, and we've got three guys that have played in the league a little bit. ... That's a good position to watch."

    Randy McMichael, who led the Rams' tight ends with 34 catches for 332 yards last year, wasn't re-signed. That left Daniel Fells (21 catches, 273 yards) and Billy Bajema (eight catches, 94 yards) as the only holdovers.

    Added in the offseason were Darcy Johnson, a free agent who has been in the NFL for four years, and draft picks Michael Hoomanawanui (fifth round) and Fendi Onobun (sixth).

    Suddenly, it got very crowded at tight end; only three are likely to stick.

    "That's the way it is in the NFL. Every year they're trying to do the best they can to bring in guys that they think can help the team," said Bajema, a sixth-year pro. "We've got, really, five guys that are good players, so there's a lot of competition. It's just a matter of doing everything every day to show what you can do."

    Bajema spent four seasons in San Francisco, where he earned a reputation as a reliable blocker. In 61 games, he caught just seven passes for 88 yards.

    But after signing with the Rams in March 2009, he proved that he has receiving ability, too.

    "He sure does," Spagnuolo said. "I told him not to think (that he was regarded as a blocker only), that we saw him as a tight end. And in this offense, the tight end gets the ball thrown to him."

    When the Rams have thrown the ball to the 6-foot-4, 259-pound Bajema, 27, during training camp, he's generally pulled it down.

    "I think (camp is) going well," said the Oklahoma State product. "It's just a battle to work hard, get better every day, and I feel like I'm improving. I feel like I'm working hard and doing things to help the team. My goal is just to do more of that."

    He also tries to focus on the immediate task at hand and not get caught up worrying about what the other tight ends are doing.

    "I try not to. But you know it's inevitable; everybody on the team can't be around" at the end, Bajema said. "Ninety-five percent of us out here, part of what we're doing in training camp is competing for jobs. There's very few guys that are just set; most guys have to earn it every year. …

    "All I can do is go out and play the best I can play, and things will shake out the way they're supposed to."

    INSIDE...
    -08-10-2010, 11:09 PM
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