Burwell: As usual, Alexander is battling

2012-08-07T08:45:00Z 2012-08-13T05:33:43Z Burwell: As usual, Alexander is battlingBY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist stltoday.com

Danario Alexander is the best and worst kind of story at any NFL training camp.

The Rams wide receiver is the guy with the irresistible tale that everyone wants to root for because you know what he's gone through to get here. But it's also the star-crossed story that ultimately breaks your heart because pro football's cruel and impatient nature has no time to wait on the happy ending we all want for the former Mizzou star.

"He obviously has some talent," coach Jeff Fisher said. "But we just have to keep him out there."

Keeping him out there on the field has been the single greatest challenge for Alexander. His brief pro football career can be measured best not by how many passes he's caught, but how many times his NFL dream has been interrupted.

Too many knee injuries, too many operations, too many major and minor aches and pains and way too many frustrating rehab stints repeatedly have hit the pause button on a career that once seemed destined for greatness, but now is on the verge of an unhappy ending.

Alexander spent the first week of training camp sidelined because of a pulled hamstring. It's just the latest thing that has left him on the sidelines and now threatens to land him on the waiver wire before the end of training camp.

The Rams spent the offseason dedicated to upgrading the receiver corps, signing former Giant and Pro Bowler Steve Smith and drafting two receivers in the second and fourth rounds. There may be no position in training camp where the competition is as even as the wide receiver position, which means that even as talented as Alexander might be, the easiest way to the unemployment line is to spend too much time on the sidelines.

Monday afternoon was the first practice of camp where Alexander was cleared for full activity. He ran mostly with the second- and third-string units in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills and rarely saw passes thrown his way.

But at least he was out there competing.

"I felt good running routes and getting back into the swing of things," Alexander told reporters after practice. "I'm just trying to stay healthy."

His career has been marked by stints on the inactive list followed by spectacular bursts of his play-making ability (see: averaging 40 yards a catch against the Giants last year, 17.3 yards a catch vs. Cincy, 18 yards a catch against San Diego and 23.8 against Denver in 2010).

But now the clock is ticking on his NFL life, and he knows it. You can't keep getting hurt, nursing a minor strain or a major tear and keep hoping that someone will be patient enough to wait for you to heal and do your thing.

Time marches on rapidly in the NFL, where one person's misfortune is always another man's opportunity.

Last week, as he was sidelined with his gimpy hamstring, running half-speed sprints in the end zone with head athletics trainer Reggie Scott, Alexander spent more than a few moments with his hands on his hips, looking on as the other healthy wide receivers ran pass patterns and caught balls and got in countless reps that he was missing.

"It's not fun at all," Alexander said. "I like to compete. It's hard to come out on the field and see my guys competing against each other and I have to be off by myself getting in shape. (But) right now I'm healthy. I'm good and I'm looking forward to these next few weeks.

"Maybe I took a few steps back, but I'm confident that my abilities will show and I'll be able to come out here and compete every day and make this team."

The talent clearly is there.

Every time you see that long and elegant 6-foot-5 body gliding down the field and leaping above defenders to make spectacular plays, you know that the star quality is there.

The new coaching staff has seen the game film on him, seen him in the offseason workouts and come away impressed with Alexander's tremendous potential.

He was the one true deep threat in this anemic offense last season, averaging 20.5 yards a catch through the first four games before re-injuring his knee against Dallas.

He was inactive for the next five games and barely used when he returned to the active roster in December.

Now Alexander swears the knee no longer is an issue.

He wears a bulky brace but says there is no swelling, no tenderness and no fear that it will cause him any troubles this year.

Fisher says he hasn't fallen too far behind the rest of the crowded field at his position, but he wants to see Alexander on the field, not limping on the sidelines.

"That's the key for him," Fisher said. "He has to be on the field. But we still have to watch his reps now and make a decision (later this week) whether he gets out there this weekend (in Sunday's opening exhibition game against Indianapolis).

"He's not behind mentally. (Receivers coach Ray Sherman) says he's been paying attention (and taking the mental reps). But it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it consistently."

The comeback story is so much a part of the Alexander back story that you want to believe he can do it once again this season. We're all used to seeing him pull off these miracle comebacks. He has battled back from so many impossible medical odds already that you won't be surprised if he does it again.

That's the good part of this story.

The bad part of stories like this is that when you see a guy overcome that many long odds already, it makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe he's about to run out of miracles pretty soon.

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bryan Burwell

Bryan Burwell covers a wide spectrum of sports as a columnist for the Post-Dispatch.

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