Against The Odds

By Zack Cimini

Nowadays in pro athletic sports an all purpose athlete is a commodity. Athletes are so quick and multi talented that they can play any position on the football field. You could be a 6?3 220 pound athlete that can play linebacker, safety, defensive end, etc. With the versatility of these athletes, they can pretty much tryout for any position they want to. It all started in the mid 90?s when Deion Sanders and Kordell Stewart were doing slash duties. Today?s king of slash has to be Dante Hall. Hall who played running back in college at Texas A@M, has found a career niche in Kansas City by being a special teams player and wide receiver. Hall though isn?t the only one making a career in a different position in the NFL.

A year ago the best tight end in football was hands down, Tony Gonzalez. Now Antonio Gates has quickly changed that, and this comes from a guy that didn?t play one down of football in college. He focused on basketball at Kent State, but is so quick for a big man that San Diego took a chance on him. He quietly had a solid rookie season last year, in which he had 400 yards receiving and two touchdowns. The numbers he is putting up this year though are far beyond average tight end numbers, in fact they are Pro Bowl wide receiver numbers.

So far he has 72 catches, 826 yards receiving, and 11 touchdowns. Defenses just can?t stop him, because he is a bigger version of David Boston playing tight end. He has wide receiver quickness and uses his big body to shield of defenders for jump ball situations. Everything about Gates is special, because he has the uncanny ability to get open on every play. It doesn?t hurt that Ladainian Tomlinson is the running back in San Diego, which aids in Gates getting wide open on play action passes.

Three years ago Antwaan Randle El was fighting for his life to make the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. At 5?10 there was not a glimmer of hope for Randle El to play quarterback like he did at the University of Indiana. The Doug Flutie days of the NFL are over, and there will never be a quarterback under 6?0 starting in the NFL. So Randle El came in just vying for a special teams roster spot, and he accomplished that while making an instant impact at wide receiver for the Steelers. Bill Cowher is no stranger to using multi talented players, and knew he had a special one in Randle El. His hard work ethic has him pushing Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress even harder. The Steelers receiving corps is no doubt the best in the league, and is one of the reasons why Ben Roeslinberger is having a great rookie year. Bill Cowher doesn?t get the credit he deserves in his talent evaluations. Year in and year out he loses key players on both sides of the ball, but regroups quickly with solid young talent. If Hines Ward or Burress is lost to free agency it wouldn?t hurt the Steelers one bit, because Randle El is ready to be a star in this league.

Out in Oakland the story of the year has to be Ronald Curry. He played quarterback at the University of North Carolina, and was also teamed up with fellow multi purpose athlete Julius Peppers on the basketball team. He has always been known for being an all around athlete, and the Raiders drafted him in the seventh round just for that. Being behind Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Jerry Porter, and others made it a difficult task for Curry to even get a shot to make the Raiders roster as a rookie. But he did that, and as the other players got older he slowly moved up on the wide receiver depth chart. Norv Turner gave him a shot this season, and he has taken full advantage of it. He is just getting better every week, and would have finished the season strong if he didn?t go down with a torn Achilles late in yesterday?s loss to Kansas City. Curry is a hard worker and has had a similar injury in college. Expect him to fully recover and bounce back next season.

When you?re team is hurting in the secondary, why not throw in a wide receiver? They study cornerbacks every week, and know receiver?s tendencies because that?s their main position. Often when an opposing team needs a hail mary to win a game, the other team will throw in a wide receiver to just knock the ball down. Keyshawn Johnson has done it many times, but no one has done what Troy Brown has. He has been on light duty for the Patriots in their secondary, but has managed two interceptions. There aren?t a lot of players that we go out and do what Brown has done, just because they aren?t getting paid to play both sides of the ball. Brown though is a true team player that wants his team to win, and he doesn?t care one way or another on how he helps his team.


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