Alexander's career with Rams full of 'what ifs'
AUG 27, 2012 10:35p ET
In short, that's why the former St. Louis Rams wide receiver was waived with an injury settlement Monday. There will be cruel questions attached to his tenure in the Gateway City: What if he never had five surgeries on his left knee? What if he never had hamstring problems that kept him off the field most of training camp? What if he never had to worry about his body when his career tried to take off?
"We felt like we were better off going into this week keeping healthy receivers and evaluating them for potential, not only for spots on the roster, but for potential practice squad (positions) than hang onto Danario," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "It's unfortunate that he never really got to do much for us."
We'll never know how much Alexander could have done. That, above all, is his legacy in a Rams uniform. He was a streak across the sky, a flash who was probably destined for a short NFL career when he arrived in St. Louis as an undrafted free agent in August 2010.
Alexander never wanted to hear such talk, of course. He ignored the doubters, and he fought to keep a vision alive.
We watched Alexander through it all. We watched because he lived his football life on the edge. It seems silly to give such thought to someone with pedestrian stats -- he had 737 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 18 games played. But his fascination is found in nuance, not numbers, promise, not production.
Yes, Alexander's intrigue comes from the fact that he raced against time. He ran from that next hamstring pull and that next hit to the knee, that next missed practice and that next mention on the inactive list. The struggle produced victory and defeat -- leaving his followers to wonder how much stamina he had left. The struggle was never short on drama.
In the end, his chase became too much. It was obvious by his absence in the second preseason game, against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 18, that his time with the Rams would end soon. By then, Alexander had made few showings in training camp because of hamstring issues -- he spent most sessions on the sideline watching rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens while wearing basketball shorts and a flat-bill cap. At last, time had caught up with him.
But time is a funny thing. It teaches along the way, and Alexander gained lessons as a stop-and-start curiosity.
In June, I sat with him in a small room at Rams Park and asked if he ever wished things were different. He was optimistic then. He was hopeful that he would be part of the Rams' vision with Fisher and first-year general manager Les Snead. He was hopeful that health problems were behind him. He envisioned a productive future.
There was a brief moment when Alexander opened up about his fragile career. He admitted nothing is certain in the NFL. He said he used the challenge as motivation.
"The uncertainty is scary," Alexander said then. "You do this your whole life, and you want to continue to reach your dream and play in the NFL, and there's a slight chance that might not happen. That makes me go even harder. … You've got to be able to stay tough mentally and keep your head up, because there is always a bright side."
If there's a bright side for Alexander in Monday's news, it's this: He extended his dream longer than most expected. What began as a signing to excite fans who recalled his historic college career became more than publicity. He went from the practice squad to a legitimate deep threat to someone you watched on the sideline and thought, "Just what could he do if healthy?"
"There's potential there, and there's athletic ability," Fisher said. "He elevates and catches out of frame and runs well. It's unfortunate. I'm disappointed for him that he didn't get a chance, but that was out of our control. We had to move on."
Now, Alexander does too. He produced highlights in St. Louis -- but not enough of late to survive the first round of cuts. He made an impression when on the field -- but not enough of one to justify a roster spot despite an open wide-receiver race. He showed glimpses of great skill -- but not enough of them to earn the new staff's trust.
What if Alexander had stayed healthy?
Sadly, the question will linger.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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