KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The numbers love him, the numbers hate him. On the whole, Frankie Hammond Jr. looked pretty happy for a guy living on the fringe, a man dancing in NFL limbo.
“It is what it is,” the Kansas City wide receiver said after running back six punts for 103 yards and hauling in a 9-yard score in the Chiefs’ 30-8 preseason rout of the Green Bay Packers. “That’s part of the business and that’s part of the NFL. It’s up to coach (Andy Reid’s) decision. I put my best foot forward, and all I can do is just hope for the best.”
But in the last week of August, where NFL dreams sometimes die an unexpected death, hope carries you only so far. The Chiefs have to trim the roster down from 75 to 53 by Saturday, and Hammond, a 6-foot-1 undrafted rookie out of Florida, has already done the math in his head.
It isn’t pretty.
At wideout, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster and A.J. Jenkins are presumed to be locks. That leaves Devon Wylie, Junior Hemingway, Rico Richardson, Josh Bellamy and Hammond fighting for three spots, tops.
Hemingway strung together a killer preseason, leading the club in exhibition receptions (11), receiving yards (116) and receiving touchdowns (two). Wylie left Thursday night’s contest with a bad hamstring, so maybe that opens something up. Then again …
“I don’t know,” said Hammond, whose touchdown catch from Tyler Bray with 5:14 left in the contest capped the scoring. “I just enjoy it.”
At least you got in the last word, right?
“Hey, if the phone rings, it rings. And if doesn’t, I don’t even think about it. Like I said, you just put your best foot forward and just roll with it. I’m just going to enjoy it (Thursday night) and see what Saturday brings.”
For Reid and general manager John Dorsey, it brings headaches, in a good way. During a game in which the Chiefs rested pretty much all of their expected starters, Thursday turned into a showcase for the bottom half of the roster. And there were gold stars all the way across the board, from Hemingway (seven catches, 80 yards, one score) to running back Cyrus Gray (13 carries, 72 rushing yards) to linebacker Frank Zombo to Hammond.
“Unfortunately,” Reid said, “they were all making good plays.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s tough,” Hammond said. “But hey, just go out there and do your job, man.”
No. 85 is one of those plugger-on-the-margin stories you root for, a guy who’s had to come a long way, personally, in a short span. Three summers ago, Hammond was 20 going on 16, arrested by campus police after allegedly swerving and speeding in his ride near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Authorities reportedly found open bottles of whiskey in his car; his blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit of .08, which led to charges of possession of liquor by a minor and driving under the influence.
He was ostracized and suspended and, eventually, he worked his way back into the Gators’ rotation. A year ago, Florida coach Will Muschamp went out of his way to praise the redshirt senior as a leader and mentor for a young receiving corps. The stats (22 catches as a senior, 15 as a junior, 22 as a sophomore) never quite matched the skill set, but speed is speed, and Dorsey bit.
“It flies by,” Hammond said. “Just have to enjoy it, and enjoy the moments that come with it.”
Thursday provided more than a few, once the dust finally settled. The Florida native found a seam on a 19-yard return to the Chiefs’ 45-yard-line that set up one Ryan Succop field goal. An 11-yard runback later that period put the ball at the 50 and set up the hosts’ first touchdown drive of the night. A 33-yard return late in the third quarter set up another field goal that extended the cushion to 23-8.
“It’s really fun,” Hammond said of special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s August magic. “I mean, especially trusting those 10 guys in front of you. And knowing they’re going to get the job done, it makes my job a whole lot easier. (I) have a trust (that) those guys are going to handle their business — all I’ve got to do is just catch it and just find a hole, hit the green grass and just run for it.”
Over the past month, Hammond returned 12 punts for an average of 11.4 yards per runback and collected two more kick returns for 47 yards. Special teams is the ticket with the best odds, however slim, but the Chiefs are already stacked in possible returners (Knile Davis, Quintin Demps, a healthy McCluster and Wylie). If Hammond isn’t auditioning for a spot here, he’s piled up enough productive footage on the resume, presumably, to get a look somewhere else.
Speed is speed. And impressions are impressions.
“I hope I left a good one,” he said.
And with that, he shrugged again. Sometimes, in this business, even the last word isn’t enough.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.