Sunday, July 20
Crouch caught in numbers game with Packers
By Len Pasquarelli
Unlike the manner in which he so adroitly eluded defenders during a college career that culminated with winning the Heisman Trophy in 2001, Eric Crouch acknowledges that he can't dodge the irony of his situation, as he enters a second NFL training camp.
Less than a year after he stunningly "retired" from the NFL, because the St. Louis Rams wanted him to perform at wide receiver and not quarterback, Crouch is essentially in the same spot with the Green Bay Packers.
He might be listed on the roster as a quarterback, and his name appears at that position on the depth chart, but Crouch will have to earn a regular-season paycheck with the Packers based on his abilities to do something other than throw the football.
"That's pretty much the reality of where things are," allowed the former Nebraska star. "I don't know how many snaps I'm going to be able to get (at quarterback). There are a lot of guys and they all need to get work in camp. It's very competitive for that backup shot behind Brett (Favre). To be honest, it's going to be an uphill battle, that's for sure."
Indeed, after Favre, the Packers roster includes venerable journeyman Doug Pederson, former Cincinnati Bengals first-round flop Akili Smith, and youngster Craig Nall, who made great strides this spring while playing for the Scottish Claymores in Europe. Even when coach Mike Sherman ticks off the names of the challengers for the No. 2 spot, it seems Crouch is an afterthought.
Certainly the plans for dividing the snaps when the full squad reports to camp Tuesday indicates Crouch might be even a bigger long shot to make the Green Bay roster in 2003 than he was to stick with the Rams last summer.
The division of quarterback labor calls for Favre to get 50 percent of the snaps, then Nall and Smith to get 20 percent each. Pederson, who has performed well in the offseason and is all but certain to be on the roster, will take the leftover scraps, because the coaches are comfortable they know what he can do. That leaves Crouch as the very odd-man out, and likely having to catch the staff's attention in some other manner, like returning kickoffs and playing on the special teams coverage units.
"It seems that might be the handwriting on the wall," Crouch said. "But if that's what it is going to take, then that's what I'll do."
There is some degree of cruel fate that has cast Crouch in this role. After he abruptly quit on the Rams last summer, he sat out the 2002 campaign, and then St. Louis rescinded its right to him this spring. Crouch's plan was to head to the CFL, where he would be able to play quarterback, and perhaps prove to NFL scouts he could handle the position.
Green Bay blocked his move to Canada, though, by claiming his NFL rights on waivers.
In the ensuing weeks, the Packers spoke publicly of how impressed they were by his live arm and velocity, of how he might somehow fit into the quarterback pecking order. But the improvement of Nall and the infatuation with attempting to salvage Smith's career has bumped Crouch well into the background now.
To his credit, if Crouch is frustrated by the reversal, he has demonstrated no bitterness, at least not publicly. More an option quarterback for the Cornhuskers, and one of the most productive offensive NCAA players overall in the past decade, he will rely on his athletic skills to get him over the latest hurdle.
Crouch appeared in 42 games for the Cornhuskers and started 38 of them. He is one of only 13 players in college football annals to both rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in a season. Crouch is one of only three players at the Division I-A level to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards in his career and he also holds the NCAA career record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
In addition to the Heisman Trophy, he also captured the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award for 2001 and the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award. He is the most decorated quarterback in Nebraska history and is one of the most prolific offensive players in recent history of the college game. He completed 312 of 606 passes for 4,481 yards, with 29 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions. Crouch also carried 648 times for 3,434 yards and scored 59 rushing touchdowns.
A third-round pick of the Rams, he is cognizant that not many players who walk away from the NFL voluntarily ever get a second chance, and wants to take advantage of any opportunity to prove he belongs in the league.
Even if that means, to his dismay, not playing quarterback.
"Do I still want to play quarterback?" asked Crouch, rhetorically. "Sure, I do. But I want to play football, period, and that's the more important thing for now."