ST. LOUIS – Kay Dalton has a story about Vincent Jackson. It’s a tale of caution and patience and allowing talent to develop at a healthy pace. It’s about trusting instinct, recognizing potential and understanding that maturing as a wide receiver takes time.
Dalton has a memory of Jackson – before the San Diego Chargers selected the Division I-AA prospect 61st overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, before the wideout was named to two Pro Bowls, before some used him as a model for St. Louis Rams rookie Brian Quick.
Jackson came to Northern Colorado raw. Dalton, the Bears’ former coach, doesn’t remember playing him much aside from special teams those first two years. Early in Jackson’s time in the program, there were moments when he was told to run 10-yard routes in practice.
The problem? He broke off patterns 5 yards too long and too short.
“It’s just a matter of maturation,” Dalton says now.
That’s the challenge facing Quick, the Rams’ celebrated second-round pick, 33rdoverall, from Division I-AA Appalachian State. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Columbia, S.C., native earned a program-best 3,418 yards receiving with 31 touchdowns. He drew comparisons to Terrell Owens on draft day, but he has caught as many passes from quarterback Sam Bradford as Jesse Owens since the start of Week 1.
Quick was inactive for non-health reasons Sunday before a loss to the Chicago Bears, and fair questions followed: What’s wrong with coach Jeff Fisher’s top choice at the Rams’ greatest offseason area of need? Why hasn’t Quick seen the field as often as fellow rookie wide receiver Chris Givens (two catches for 9 yards)? Why has he struggled to make an impact – playing only three snaps in each of the Rams’ first two games – after receiving so much attention in training camp?
“I’m ready to go out there,” Quick says. “I’m anxious just like anybody would be. If you’re here on the team, you definitely want to contribute. But things didn’t happen that way.”
They didn’t happen that way, and Fisher has offered little on the topic other than telling reporters Sunday, “The other guys are still ahead of him.” The “other guys” include Danny Amendola (25 catches for 296 yards), Brandon Gibson (eight catches for 123), Steve Smith (five catches for 70), Givens and Austin Pettis – who debuted against the Bears after missing the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
No, things haven’t happened in a way Quick would have liked. No, he hasn’t seen the field as often as he and others thought in his assumed role: As the top deep threat for a corps that desperately needs one. No, not even close.
But it’s early, and it’s wise to keep perspective. Development as a wide receiver requires a jog, not a Jaguar. We don’t know what Quick’s mark on the Rams will be.
“As a rookie, there’s a lot to learn – no matter where you come from,” says Dalton, who also served as an assistant coach in various capacities with the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers. “The big thing is the speed of the game is so much faster. They have a lot of tight coverages that we normally don’t get in college. There’s lots of terminology. There’s a lot to learn about how to run routes versus this coverage or that coverage – or this technique or that technique. … Even Vincent Jackson, who was a second-round pick, he didn’t play a whole lot his first year.”
That’s where the Quick-Jackson comparison could be appropriate. Jackson, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, was a late bloom with the Chargers. He played eight games as a rookie, catching three passes for 59 yards; he caught 27 passes for 453 yards and six touchdowns in 2006; he caught 41 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns in 2007; he caught 59 passes for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns in 2008; and he caught a career-high 68 passes for 1,167 yards with nine touchdowns in 2009.
It’s tempting to compare. It’s tempting to study instant-strike rookies of the recent past, like the Buccaneers’ Mike Williams (65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010) and the Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant (45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns the same year), and wonder if Quick could do the same. It’s tempting to think so.
After all, everyone in April puffs out their chests thinking they have discovered the next Jerry Rice. Remember, the Rams were mighty proud of themselves after snagging Quick despite seeing Justin Blackmon (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Michael Floyd (Arizona Cardinals), Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans) and A.J. Jenkins (San Francisco 49ers) go off the board in the first round.
Given Quick’s start, the hype wasn’t fair. Fisher and general manager Les Snead should have used a more measured approach with him. Sure, Quick could become a player worthy of the praise that accompanied his arrival. But until then, he must ignore the distractions around him.
“If he loses sight of the big picture, then it would be a hard thing for him,” says Trey Elder, Quick’s position coach at Appalachian State. “Brian has never been a guy who focused a lot on other people and what other people are doing. He has always been a guy who came to work and tried to do his job. … I don’t think it’s a thing where Brian looks at anyone else and loses any confidence.”
It wouldn’t hurt to look at Jackson’s arc though. There’s no shame in taking time to develop — as long as potential is met.
Jackson’s rookie season was unremarkable, but with each passing year, the Chargers were rewarded for their faith in him.