Football is a snap for Rams' draft pick
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Massey took a unique route to the NFL, by tossing tight backward spirals with his head tucked between his legs.
The St. Louis Rams made the Marshall long snapper their final pick of the NFL draft on Sunday to fill a very specific need. They need an accomplished specialist to replace Jeff Robinson, who left as a free agent for the Cowboys, and targeted their seventh-round selection, the 243rd overall, for a guy whose behind-the-scenes work can make or break a team.
"The reason you draft a long snapper is you expect him to come in and start for you," coach Mike Martz said. "We've got what we call a red tag on him, which means we feel he's very high quality."
The 6-0, 235-pound Massey walked on at Marshall as a linebacker in 1997. But he quickly figured out he had no future at that position, so he gave snapping a shot.
"It paid my way through school," he said.
More than that. After his junior season, Massey was told there was a future in snapping for him, if he kept at it.
"That's probably when I started thinking about it," he said. "I got in better shape and just snapped my butt off in the summertime and I had a real good season this year.
"Scouts came in and watched me and felt real good about my snap times and accuracy and stuff like that, so it kind of gave me a little bit of hope."
The Rams probably could have signed Massey after the draft as a free agent, but didn't want to risk losing him to another team. They also might use Massey, who has plenty of strength as evidenced by his ability to bench press 225 pounds 33 times, as a backup fullback.
"The trouble with a guy like this is if you get into free agency with him and he's highly sought-after, it gets expensive and competitive with four or five other clubs," Martz said. "So you're better off really just taking him."
Martz said Massey should provide the team with the same solid work provided by Robinson from 1997-2001. It won't hurt that the Rams just signed veteran punter Mitch Berger.
"You're a little nervous in that you've got a young guy there," Martz said. "But we just got a punter with some experience, so I think that helps offset that."
Massey works on long snapping about two days a week, snapping about 50 balls per session. Stopwatch in hand, Rams special teams coach Bobby April put Massey through his paces earlier this spring.
On his senior season bio, Massey lists snapping for a 1998 game-winning field goal against South Carolina as his career highlight. He said he gets as much of a kick out of success as the kicker.
"Believe it or not," he said.
The toughest part is dealing with the pressure "if you're backed up or it's a big play or a big kick," he said.
"But everybody gets used to that, the more experience you get."
Martz is pleased about the Rams' draft in general, although there's some unfinished business. The team still needs help at tight end and defensive end, but could plug the gaps with college and pro free agents this summer.
"The thing that took the pressure off this draft is we could draft guys that we really felt fit us: the speed aspect, the character, the intelligence and then the productivity," Martz said. "Some of them may meet a need, some of them may not."
The one pressing requirement was a linebacker, and the Rams took care of that by taking Robert Thomas of UCLA in the first round. That also relieved disappointment from free agent linebacker Donnie Edwards' decision to sign with the Chargers instead of the Rams on Friday.
"Who's to say in two years from now where'll be and the impact he'll have on this team," Martz said of Thomas. "It's exciting to see that same type of speed Donnie has."