Raw Rookie WR Pleads His Case

Todd Lowber has never caught a pass in an organized football game, and his passion and desire to do so come through crystal clear – along with his frustration over such limited opportunities. See what the athletically gifted talent had to say as he pleaded his case for playing time before the NFL cuts were due to come down this week.

NFL rosters must be trimmed to 75 players by Tuesday and with a short week of preparation before their Thursday night game against Dallas, the Vikings might just make those cuts on Sunday. Todd Lowber is hoping he can keep those two descriptors before his first name – "Vikings receiver."

The cold, hard facts of NFL preseason are weighing down heavily on the former college basketball player who has been working diligently for the past year to fulfill a dream he only recently realized he had.

Lowber has only been on the field a few times this preseason and had only one pass directed his way – one he didn't have a chance to catch Saturday night.

"It's outstandingly frustrating because, to know you can do something and just be not allowed to do it because of certain circumstances, it's frustrating. I come to work with a smile every day and I come with an attitude to where I want to show them I deserve to be out there and I deserve to get the opportunity," Lowber said. "Now, whether they give me the opportunity is not in my control, but as long as everybody knows and I know at the end of the day that I can be out there, that's the business aspect of it and I don't control that. … The hard work won't go unnoticed."

When Lowber signed with the Vikings as a street free agent that had only limited exposure to NFL teams through private workouts earlier this year, the Vikings were in a receiver quandary. They had released Marcus Robinson last December and decided to let their leading receiver from 2006, Travis Taylor, go unsigned and hit the free-agent market. They had signed Bobby Wade and Cortez Hankton, but they hadn't yet drafted three wide receivers. They also had acquired Robert Ferguson in free agency.

Yet, through all those moves that have Lowber's roster chances looking darker with each passing week, he tries to remain focused on his own improvement.

"I know I don't control that aspect. I'm here to just perform every day. I don't control the numbers, I don't control who is first, who's this, who's second. All I control is to just go in when they call 86. When 86 gets in there, they know what they're going to get. They'll get full speed. Maybe I might make some mistakes, I'm still learning, but I've limited those since I've been," Lowber said. "It's all about execution and I've been executing. I don't determine if I get in or not, I just go when they call me."

Before Saturday night's game, Lowber estimated he had only been on the field for seven plays. With 12 receivers now on the roster, at least a couple of them are expected to be released before Thursday's game.

He sounds extremely passionate about getting the chance to showcase his skills and devastatingly frustrated by his inability to control that part of his fate.

"I'm just trying to lobby for that one opportunity. Just one. All I need is one time and they'll see. You can't hide that. I just want to get that one," Lowber said, repeating his theme throughout an interview last week. "I don't care if it's a smoke throw on the scrimmage line, I'm going to make it something because I have the ability to do that. Because of the limited access I have to the field, I have to make the best of it. You know, with all that built-up aggression and frustration, that 1-yard smoke throw could turn into a touchdown, and that's how I think of it because I have the ability and I work hard as well.

"Some guys have the ability, but they don't have the work ethic. My work ethic is work hard every day. Once I get that opportunity, they're not going to be able to deny me. There's no way. I've worked too hard and I love the game too much. I have that newly found love for the game because I just started playing it. You can't substitute that. This is a business, yes, but these guys played this game before they got paid. They played the game and they loved the game, and that's how I'm stepping into it. I'm like I'm playing Pop Warner as a kid – I love the game that much. … The fact that I know I can play the game, we've moved past that already. I've taken hits, I've caught passes, I've done everything I've been asked to do, and now it's all about giving me the opportunity to do it. Now that's all I'm asking – just give me the opportunity to show you how valuable I can be to a team."

Lowber came to the Vikings raw as a professional athlete can be. He had never played organized football before in his life, but he became a national champion high jumper, clearing seven feet, when he joined the track team at Ramapo College in his senior year.

But it was his speed that won over NFL scouts who gathered at his East Coast training facility last winter, which was followed by a private workout with Vikings coaches at Winter Park. With a rumored 4.11-second time registered in the 40-yard dash and New Jersey high school state titles in the 100-, 200-meter and high jump, he was signed by the Vikings.

Since then, he has been a student-athlete with a major in wide receiver. He has been working before and after practices all summer on his footwork and his route-running skills.

"It's come to a point to where I have to get more reps to really hone them better. I've come to the point where I know what I have to do – I know every responsibility I have, but now I have to see it live to learn on the fly," he said. "You can't learn something if you're not given the opportunity to see how it affects you physically and really full speed. … I'm only going to get to a certain point if they don't allow me to do it. You have to nurture talent, you have to bring it along.

"If you have confidence in the talent, the talent will work for you. That's how I've always been as an athlete. Any coach that has given me confidence and given his trust in me, I've never let him down. I just told Coach (George) Stewart that the other day. Once they give me the opportunity and they trust me to do what I have to do, I won't let you down."

Early in organized team activities, Lowber showed a good amount of natural athletic ability and surprisingly good hands for an athlete that hadn't worked on football skills until about a year ago. But, it seemed that as the summer practices wore on and he received more instruction on the finer points of football and route-running the dropped passes increased.

So, has he just been thinking too much the last few months and not letting his natural ability shine through?

"Yes and no, but my job is to catch the ball. … My major problem is when I came here I tended to look upfield before I'd catch the ball. It's hard because I have the ability to do that, but sometimes it will bite you because the ball comes pretty fast, and if you're not really looking at it, it's hard to catch it," he said. "I have the special ability to do that because I'm a basketball player and you need peripheral vision. Sometimes I have to focus and really emphasize it, looking the ball in, because I'm looking upfield before I even catch the ball. I already know where I'm going to go before I catch the ball, and that's a good thing and that's a bad thing. But I know one thing: If I do catch the ball you're not going to hit me because I see you already. That's the one thing that I think can set me apart from other receivers because I have that ability and that athleticism to do that. But I have to hone it to where I can control it and I can catch every ball. I can catch every ball, but I just have to make sure I can focus on the nuances of it."

His lack of playing time thus far in the preseason has led him to lobbying coaches to give him an opportunity.

"Every day, of course. I don't want to sit here and watch the guys that have been doing it. I feel I have the ability equal to or greater than the guys that are here. I'm not cocky and I'm not overconfident, but I know what I've been given ability to do, and there's no way a guy like me can get to this point without having some kind of potential. It's cockiness, it's not overconfidence – it's total faith – and I have total faith in what the Lord has given me and I know that I can do it because I've been put here for a reason," he said.

But the harsh reality smacks the well-spoken talent in the face. For an athlete that seems to want nothing more than he does this opportunity in the NFL, a lack of playing time is hitting him harder than any safety ever could.

He and his agent have wondered all summer why he hasn't been given a chance to display his dazzling speed on kickoff returns, and he mentioned it once more when he was asked what kind of feedback he has gotten from the coaching staff so far – a question that seemed to leave him instantly introspective and outwardly choked up. "I don't' get much feedback," he said solemnly before slowly returning to his pleas for an opportunity. "There are certain things in this game to where my abilities are tailor-made for – kickoff-return specialties. That's something I really want to do and I'm eager to do that. I've been doing that since I've gotten here – on my own. I haven't gotten the opportunity. I've been lobbying for that. Anybody that knows speed and knows what ability speed has, that's the perfect thing. You want to get as much yardage as you can. Shoot, I can run full speed straight ahead and get yardage. I can do more than that obviously, but I'm saying just give me the opportunity to try it.

"If I'm here for a reason, use my talent. Don't waste my talent, and I don't feel that they're wasting my talent, they're bringing me along. I'm so eager and I have so much adrenaline to do things and it just feels like I'm being held – slowly, slowly. And if that's the case, then I have to live with that. But if that's not the case, then I have to move on."

In fact, Lowber would seem like an ideal candidate for the practice squad, but it was quickly clear that wasn't something he wanted to hear. That means he would have to be cut and exposed to the waiver wire, and since he hasn't had a chance to put his talent into action in a preseason game, the only team who has really seen him is the Vikings.

"That's why I want the opportunity to show what I can do just in case that is the plan. Let me show what I can do. Before you make a decision to put me on the practice squad, let me show what I can really do in a real game when the bullets are flying," he said. "That's the only opportunity I want because I can do everything these guys can do. I know that sounds like, you just started playing football, but I learn very fast. I'm a quick learner.

"I know that if I'm given the opportunity, there is no way that they are going to be able to deny me. I'm ready, I'm prepared and they've been preparing me. They are good coaches here and they know they've coached me up, so when they put in the game they know I'm going to be able to perform. This is a business and I have to be able to market myself. I haven't been able to do that, only to one team and that's very frustrating.

"I'm not letting it get to me – I'll never take a day off, I'll never take a play off. When it comes my turn, I'm going full speed."


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