EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Back in the spring when the St. Louis Rams were going through organized team activities, it was clear that most of the rookies were still working to get acclimated to their new jobs.
There were a couple of notable exceptions, including first-round pick Aaron Donald, who has looked advanced beyond his years from the moment he arrived in St. Louis. But another came in the form of tight end Alex Bayer, an undrafted rookie from Bowling Green.
Although the Rams were not in pads, Bayer has a knack for showing up a couple of times each practice with a catch in traffic or down the field. In this training camp, with the pads on, Bayer picked up where he left off.
After a five-catch, 71-yard debut against the New Orleans Saints last week, the secret seems to be getting out. Bayer has a legitimate shot to win a spot on the 53-man roster.
"He has consistent hands," tight ends coach Rob Boras said. "He’s going to be in the right place at the right time. He’s very trustworthy. Then you saw him Friday night he stepped up and made some plays which we thought he was capable of doing."
After a solid college career, Bayer thought he had a chance to get drafted but was well aware that he'd be a late-round choice if he was. When he didn't hear his name, he was quickly deluged with plenty of opportunities around the league. More than 10 teams called with their pitch.
But Bayer did his homework, studying the depth charts of teams around the league and learning the preferred number of tight ends each has traditionally kept. In the Rams, Bayer saw the offseason departure of fourth tight end Mike McNeill and was aware they had kept four in each of the two years under coach Jeff Fisher.
Bayer felt additional comfort with the Rams since Boras had paid him a visit the week of the draft, putting him through a workout and taking him to lunch.
"We knew before the draft this was going to be the team to go to if I wasn’t going to be drafted anywhere else," Bayer said. "So I’m really happy."
Bayer's happiness has apparently translated to a solid training camp that has him in prime position to win a potential fourth roster spot for a tight end. Known for his pass-catching ability and athleticism, the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Bayer has been asked to do a lot since his arrival.
Throughout a given practice, Bayer can be seen lining up in the slot, attached to the line of scrimmage as an in-line blocker and putting his hand down to play fullback. The last one has been his biggest transition after a college career in which blocking in space was rarely asked of him.
"I’ll do whatever it takes to be on this team," Bayer said. "I’m kind of liking playing fullback. It wasn’t something I did in college but you’ve got to be able to adjust, especially in this league. You’re not going to be able to do the same thing two weeks in a row, you have got to be able to do different things."
The battle for a possible fourth tight end spot will almost certainly come down to Bayer and Justice Cunningham. Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey are well-positioned to hold down the first three but a possible fourth spot could be a tough decision.
The Rams were excited to land Cunningham late last season and think highly of his ability as a blocker. In some sense, the choice between Cunningham and Bayer could come down to whether the Rams prefer the polished blocker working on his pass catching (Cunningham) or the polished pass catcher working on his blocking (Bayer).
There also remains the possibility that the Rams will only keep three, something that will have to be sorted out later.
"We are just trying to be the best tight end group in the NFL, not necessarily have the best tight end but be the best group," Boras said. "Whether that’s three guys or four guys, whatever we are blessed to have in the room, we’ll take. They’re both still learning."
Cunningham has been in St. Louis a little longer and appeared to have the early edge, but based on performance in camp and the preseason opener, it's hard to believe that margin still exists. And if Bayer continues on his current trajectory, it's Cunningham who will have to play catchup.
"I try not to look at that," Bayer said. "I just go out there and do what I can control and that’s play football. Our lockers are right next to each other in the locker room, we are always talking and helping each other out. I’m not trying to look at it as competition. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to be on this team. With the limited reps I get as a lower tight end, I just try to make every play count."