Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sometimes You Go Bust

(note: this column was written Friday night, before the news of Charles Rogers' cashiering by the Lions was annnounced)

It’s a cruel, cold term. Definitve and without any grey area. Black-and-white in its meaning.

Draft bust.

It means total, absolute failure. A complete loss. A terrible, irreversible mistake.

Hotshot college player is selected by elated pro team. The world is the young player’s oyster. Pro team thinks young player could be the key to long term success. Fans walk around wearing jerseys with young player’s name on the back. As Humphrey Bogart once said, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

Then it comes to pass that young player cannot dribble the ball without it going off his foot, or cannot throw a forward pass anywhere near an intended receiver, and by the time pro team realizes that morsel, it’s too late.

Draft bust.

Sometimes the realization is rather immediate, but mostly it takes a few nondescript seasons for it to sink in: our #1 draft pick is a bust. Eat a contract, close a chapter.

In 1972, the Portland Trailblazers picked a tall beanpole named LaRue Martin first off the board. He was “can’t miss” – that overused, often inaccurate phrase slapped onto the hotshot college kids before they’ve laced up one sneaker or cleat. LaRue Martin was the best thing that ever happened to the Trailblazers in their young history.

Until he started to play basketball.

The Blazers gave up on Martin soon enough, along with their coach – a veteran basketball man named Jack McCloskey. The summer that McCloskey was fired, the Trailblazers tried their luck with another big man, from UCLA. His name was Bill Walton. No bust, he.

The list of such goof-ups on draft day is endless. Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Andre Ware over any other quarterback – ANY other quarterback. Ryan Leaf, perhaps the bust of all busts, out of Washington State and into pro football ignominy.

The Lions used the #2 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft to select a certifiable hotshot. A can’t miss receiver, named Charles Rogers from Michigan State. He was going to combine with 2002’s #3 overall pick, the quarterback Joey Harrington from Oregon, to provide the Lions with an exciting pass-and-catch duo for years to come.

Can’t miss.

Today, Charlie Rogers teeters on not being a starting wide receiver. He teeters on not being a second-string receiver. He, frankly, is teetering on not even making the final 53-man squad.

Draft bust.

If Rogers doesn’t make the Lions – and by his own admission, he doesn’t think he will – it’ll be because he just didn’t get it. Ware failed as Lions QB because he simply didn’t have NFL-caliber talent. Rogers has NFL talent, no question about that. The kid can catch a football, when he puts his mind to it. He just doesn’t always put his mind to it.

A separated shoulder early in his rookie season was a bad blow. Unlucky. No shame there. An eerily similar injury in the opening minutes of the opening game the next year, 2004, was even more dastardly. Again, no shame.

But then Rogers violated the league’s substance abuse policy last season, again early on. He was suspended for four games. Once the suspension was lifted, not much came from him, football-wise. Folks questioned his work ethic, his heart. The substance abuse thing added to his growing notoriety. He was lumped with Mike Williams, a 2005 first-round pick and fellow receiver and outcast, as, gulp, a draft bust.


Buried in the depth chart with a new coach, Rod Marinelli, Rogers didn’t do much during the pad-less mini-camps to distinguish himself as anyone worth keeping. Already, it was whispered that his fat contract was at once both a boat anchor for the Lions, and the thing keeping him from being cut.

Training camp has come and gone, and all four exhibition games have been played, and also gone is all the doublespeak and no comment-like comments from the coaching staff during July and August, cryptically describing Rogers’ and Williams’ status on the team.

But nothing cryptic, or ambiguous, or unclear about Charlie Rogers’ impending status today. No grey areas. For even if he somehow squeezes himself onto the roster, he will hardly be counted on as being the impact player the Lions envisioned on that April day in 2003, when Rogers held up his Honolulu Blue jersey with the #1 on it, a smiling team president and coach flanking him. He’d instead be the former #1 draft pick hanging on to his NFL career with the tips of his fingernails, the ones that have helped him catch oh-so-few NFL passes.

Close enough to the bottom of the barrel to be considered a draft bust.

The prevailing thought, after the doublespeak and coyness from Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, is that Rogers is not going to be a Detroit Lion when the 53-man roster is announced at 4pm Sunday. Rogers himself believes that to be the case. And it would be because he didn’t show enough effort, didn’t take his situation seriously enough, to understand the gravity of things.

Rogers chose to treat Thursday night’s exhibition finale with all the aplomb accorded … an exhibition finale. His words said as much.

“This ain’t the Super Bowl, man. Just another game.”

Not the smartest thing to say, when your coach is on the other side of the room saying, “For a lot of guys, this is like their Super Bowl.”

Now Rogers says “my days are numbered.”

Probably. Just like what happens to a draft bust, just before the busting.

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