UConn basketball player Nelson signs with Rams

Updated: April 30, 2006, 9:25 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Ed Nelson, the former Connecticut basketball forward attempting to make the transition to NFL tight end, is going to have a chance to chase his dream.

Although Nelson was not drafted over the weekend, he agreed to a two-year contract with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent shortly after the lottery concluded, agent Joe Linta told ESPN.com. A few other teams inquired about Nelson, but the Rams were aggressive in their pursuit and closed the deal quickly.

Recently featured in an "Outside the Lines" segment, Nelson is regarded as a long shot to make the regular-season roster. But his goal is to demonstrate enough progress in training camp to earn a spot on the practice squad and buy himself time to further develop his fledgling football skills.

"I'm just trying to keep my expectations realistic," Nelson said. "If I can just get a year of football under my belt, I can be a pretty good player."

St. Louis selected two highly regarded tight ends in the draft, Joe Klopfenstein of Colorado in the second round and Southern California's Dominique Byrd in the third. The Rams also traded five-year veteran Brandon Manumaleuna to San Diego during the fourth round Sunday.

In a workout for representatives from 14 franchises last week, Nelson demonstrated raw but burgeoning football skills. He posted a 34-inch vertical jump, was timed at 4.95-5.04 seconds in the 40-yard dash and dropped just one pass in receiving drills. He also showed a willingness to block.

The workout indicated his receiving skills are certainly ahead of his blocking abilities right now. But he was a physical player on the basketball court, doesn't shy away from contact, and the Rams are intrigued by Nelson's potential.

The concept of trying to go from the hardwood to hard knocks didn't even occur to Nelson until a couple weeks ago, when Linta posed it to him. Known for his ability to locate prospects in some places even league scouts can't find them, Linta was watching a Huskies basketball game when Nelson sprinted down court. The notion might not have been immediate but, at some point in the contest, Linta started assessing every move Nelson made and projecting them to the tight end position.

His progress over just the last two weeks, when Nelson began to train seriously for his workout with NFL scouts, has been excellent.

"I've only been practicing [football] for a short time, so things aren't coming real naturally to me yet," Nelson said, who measured 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds at his NFL audition. "But I do sometimes get into a situation and think, 'Well, that's [similar to] something that I'd have to do on the court,' and I try to make some sort of correlation. Little by little, I'm picking more things up every day. But the bottom line is, I've still got basketball in me, and it takes a while to get some stuff out of your system. Some things, it's like starting over [athletically]. I'm making progress, but I know that there's still a long way to go."

At least now Nelson knows he'll have the opportunity to go and do it.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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