- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday that wide receiver/kick returner/gunner Saalim Hakim has "a leg up" on other candidates vying for a spot on the 53-man roster because of his ability to play special teams.
Hakim, 24, appreciated what Ryan said -- but he knows that nothing is guaranteed. The Jets play their preseason finale Thursday night in Philadelphia, and the final roster cuts will be made over the weekend. The competition at wide receiver is especially tight.
"I still have to go out there and prove myself," Hakim said Tuesday. "I still have to go out there, compete and show them what I can do not only at my position, but at other positions as well. ... I'm here to do what they want me to do, and whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do it. I'm going to go out there and give it my all."
Hakim also intrigues the Jets because of his blazing speed. At his pro day in March 2012, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.23 seconds.
Speed runs in Hakim's family. His older brother, Az-Zahir Hakim, 13 years Saalim's senior, played parts of nine seasons in the NFL as a receiver and returner, earning a Super Bowl ring as a member of the St. Louis Rams.
"Growing up I watched him, and I've always wanted to be a football player, too," Saalim Hakim said of his brother. "I always said I wanted to be better than he was. He taught me a lot of things in the offseason about being a receiver and playing special teams and things like that. He helped me with a lot of things, and I just want to try to use them on the field."
Hakim didn't take the traditional path to the NFL. He didn't start playing football until his senior year in high school, when he moved from Atlanta to Las Vegas. Hakim's high school, Palo Verde, ran the double-wing offense, so he had to play running back. It wasn't until he arrived at Palomar College (San Marcos, California) that he became a wide receiver.
"The only route I knew how to run was a go-route," Hakim said. "But next thing you know, I started learning other routes, too. I was learning a lot."
Hakim played two years at Palomar, catching three passes in Year 1 and 28 in Year 2. He then went to Tarleton State, a Division II school in Texas, where he had 18 catches in 2010.
In 2011, Hakim signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL. A year later, he was wowing scouts across the NFL with his speedy 40-time. Eighteen teams called, he said.
"My cellphone was blowing up," he said. "I was like, OK, damn."
Hakim inked a rookie free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys, but his time there was short-lived. He dislocated his finger doing a special-teams drill in the rain. Shortly thereafter, he was released.
"We were tackling a dummy onto [what was like a bed]," Hakim said. "Everybody was slipping and sliding really hard. The veterans all did it slow, but the coaches were screaming at us, saying, 'We don't care about the rain. You better hit this thing.' I went to go hit the dummy and [I dislocated my finger]. They popped it back in, but I missed two weeks. I didn't get to prove myself."
Hakim had short stints with the Rams and New Orleans Saints before signing on with the Jets as a member of the practice squad in October 2013. He played three games for New York last season.
Despite being relatively new to football, Hakim said he's become more comfortable being a wide receiver since becoming a Jet.
"They’ve taught me a lot," he said. "All the Jets coaches have really helped me."