I've been thinking lately about the unusual case of Eric Crouch, the third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams who retired just before the NFL season began (talk about omens!).
As you know, Crouch won the Heisman trophy last year playing quarterback for Nebraska. And all of his problems can be summed up in that last sentence. His decision to walk away would not be so newsworthy if he hadn't won the Heisman, and if he didn't play quarterback at Nebraska he wouldn't be walking away.
It's complicated. Nebraska runs an old-fashioned option offense. They run the damn ball. The quarterback is much more prized for his legs than his arm.
|Like many Heisman winners, Eric Crouch wasn't a good catch for the Rams.|
NFL teams know this and really don't consider Nebraska quarterbacks to be quarterbacks. The Rams knew they'd be moving Crouch to wide receiver and kick returner when they drafted him.
And Crouch gave it a good shot. He had a good mini-camp. He stuck it out in training camp. But the problem is that Eric Crouch considers himself a quarterback. So he walked away from the Rams, the NFL, his signing bonus and the position of wide receiver.
So instead of practice, meetings and film, a typical day for the reigning Heisman-trophy winner is doing interviews, doctor's appointments for his ankle surgery and spending time with his family in Omaha.
Crouch always wanted to play QB in the NFL. But he was open to doing whatever a team wanted for him to play in the NFL. He was willing to assume a "slash" role. In retrospect, he realizes it was a mistake to say that he'd play wherever. He listened to a lot of advice -- from his agent, coaches and players -- and thought his best chance of getting to the NFL was leaving himself open to various opportunities. And he was into that and was excited about the possibilities.
The first sign that he might have miscalculated his QB prospects was at the combine. He was not being asked to throw the ball. That's how strong the NFL's opinion was of him as a QB. His agent pulled a few strings and Crouch made some throws. But that initial assessment should have been a big warning.
As he gamely tried to remake himself as a receiver, he found it very tough, particularly on his legs. He was plagued by injuries early -- ankle, hamstring and blood clots in his thigh. The physical toll was taking away from the necessary mental preparation. He still didn't think he was in the position where he belonged. So, as he told me, he's "giving it a break right now."
Crouch talked to Rams head coach Mike Martz before he left and said Martz was surprisingly supportive of his decision, with no hard feelings. Crouch would contact him first if he were to return. Which is good considering that the Rams have his NFL rights. Technically, he's on the reserved/retired list right now, with a suspended contract. Which begs the question: How does one retire without playing in a game?
The first sign that Crouch might have miscalculated his QB prospects was at the combine.
Anyway, I don't think the Eric Crouch story is over. He had a great collegiate career and admits that winning the Heisman put him in a different category of athletes. But Crouch said he can't let that predetermine his life. So he's taking a break and will be back.
He loves the game of football enough that he gave back a prorated portion of his signing bonus, even though he could have legally fought to keep it. He gave the money back because when he returns it will be for the love of the game. To be sure, when and if Eric Crouch returns to the NFL, money will be the least of his concerns.