Cutting a roster from 90 players to 53 has to be one of the toughest parts of being an NFL head coach or general manager. That task gets even tougher when leadership has to cut a particularly talented player, a player whose struggles outweigh his ability to be a difference maker. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher could be in a situation just like that with wide receiver Danario Alexander this month.
Alexander missed practice again yesterday. At this point, the number of practices where he has been on the sidelines outnumber the practices where he was on the field. He missed the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the Colts last week, and he will most likely miss this week's game against the Chiefs.
That amounts to half of the preseason. Half the reps that the other players on the roster will get before the season starts.
The former Mizzou standout might be the most naturally talented wide receiver on the team. It does not make him indispensable.
Alexander had what has become a typical season for him last year. Bouts with injuries were interspersed with special moments and struggles. He finished the season with a 48 percent catch rate, underwhelming at best, but not surprising considering the Rams struggles at quarterback.
In the last five games of the season, with Brandon Lloyd taking away many of the throws that would have otherwise gone to DX, he caught 10 passes on 20 targets. Only once in those five games did he catch at least half the balls thrown his way (against Cincinnati when he was a perfect 3-for-3).
Despite troubles on the offense, it is hard to fault DX for inconsistent play. That would be an expected symptom of a second-year player who has yet to have a full offseason of practice or even a full season of work because of his injury history.
Alexander could still surprise people. If he gets into action in the final preseason games, he has the chance and the talent to make it nearly impossible for coaches to cut him. I doubt that will happen, largely because of the news out of practice yesterday.
Rookie Brian Quick electrified the practice field, continuing to progress as he makes the transition from small school football to the NFL. Quick does many of the same things that DX does, giving the quarterback a big target who can also stretch the field thanks to his long stride. Quick has another advantage in his size and ability to play a more physical game, wrestling defensive backs for jump balls and throwing some deadly blocks for his teammates.
Quick's development will also be helped by his ability to stay on the field, both on game day and for practice.