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Slotting A Place In The NFL

Posted Aug 19, 2010

In searching for another Welker-esque player, Cards evaluate Komar

Rookie receiver Max Komar lays out to make a 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter of the preseason victory over the Texans.


FLAGSTAFF – It’s a stereotype, sure, but it’s so easy to slot Max Komar.

He’s small. He’s quick. He could be another Wes Welker. That’s what a slot wide receiver is all about. Comparisons are inevitable. Even Komar begrudgingly admits that.

“I probably fit that slot mold more than anything, but I like to play outside,” said Komar, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Idaho. “To be realistic, we’re small little white guys moving quick at 100 miles an hour. I do like the way (Welker, the Patriots’ star) plays and I like to pattern my game after him.”

The Cardinals had an undrafted rookie come in a couple years ago named Lance Long who was in the same position. He was smaller and spent time on the practice squad as the team tried to groom him to be a slot star.

Long, who got little work in college at Mississippi State (and happened to be white), couldn’t translate practice success into games. He was let go early last season (signing with Kansas City) and the Cards tried again this spring with Komar.

Komar, listed at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds, was much more productive in college, making 63 catches as a senior for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Komar started his career at Idaho as an outside guy but moved to the slot his final two years.

Of course.

“(Slot guys) are at the 6-feet and below,” said 6-foot receiver Early Doucet, who has spent his time in the slot behind Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. “If you’re that, you fit the description very well.”

Doucet grinned at the idea many slot guys are not only small but white, echoing Welker. Doucet emphasized “it’s not a race thing, it’s a good thing.”

“They enjoy the comparisons to Wes Welker,” said Doucet, who is African-American. “Lance liked that comparison. Now we have Max and it’s the same thing. The Pats have (Julian) Edelman, same thing. You see the similarity. The Colts and Anthony Gonzalez. I enjoyed (comparisons) and I am pretty sure they do. You see someone like Wes having 100-plus catches three years straight playing in the slot, you know you’ll get opportunities, you’ll get mismatches.”

That’s the important part about playing the slot. Size becomes an issue in the role not because a wideout can’t play elsewhere, receivers coach John McNulty said, but because a smaller guy usually has a better skill set to be inside.

Slot receivers have to have slightly extra quickness and explosiveness, McNulty said. They have to ready their hands quickly, because they are working in closer quarters and closer to the line of scrimmage and the ball gets to them faster. They have to be quicker in and out of breaks, and strong enough to get out of the grabs from massive linebackers or safeties.

“In the case of Early, I think he’s shown he can play inside or outside,” McNulty said. “At some point you have to be able to function outside. But it is different. There are a lot of guys that have been dominate guys outside who can go in there, but you wouldn’t want to make your living with those guys in the slot.”

Said Doucet, “You don’t see (slot guys) running too many deep routes down the field like Larry, making those spectacular catches. You have to work the middle of the field in an area most receivers don’t really want to go.”

Komar believes he can do both. He was on the outside when he made his 36-yard diving catch in the preseason opener, helping spark the Cards’ comeback. It’s important to him that quarterbacks aren’t hesitant to throw him the ball, whether it is a crossing pattern over the middle or a jump ball 30 yards away.

He doesn’t necessarily look like an NFL player. When he first arrived in the Cardinals’ locker room right after the draft, smaller than most and his baseball hat askew, he looked like a high school player who had wandered into the wrong place.

McNulty also noticed Komar cast a wary eye around.

“He had a look like, ‘Hey, you have a problem?’ ” McNulty said. “He’s a tough guy with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and he plays that way. There are so many different body types and skills sets and schools they are from that are playing now, you can’t judge until you see them play.”

That’s all Komar wants. He doesn’t necessarily want to be Wes Welker, or only an inside receiver. He’s tired of being slotted into a particular box.

“I know I got a lot of double takes, like, ‘Whoa, he’s on the roster?’ ” Komar said. “But I have been dealing with that my whole life too. I don’t look like your average NFL player when you see me from a distance, but when you see me on the field and how I work, people get a better appreciation of my game.”
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