THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Los Angeles Rams backup quarterback Blake Bortles fired passes Tuesday to a series of undersized, fleet-footed receivers trying to extend their stay with the flourishing organization.
Brandin Cooks, an electric 5-foot-10 pass catcher, has the sort of job security on-the-bubble talents JoJo Natson (5-7), Austin Proehl (5-10) and former Eastern Washington star Nsimba Webster (5-10) covet.
Webster, a rookie who signed an undrafted free agent contract in May, exhibited the top-gear speed that helped him briefly lead the FCS in receiving yards last season before sustaining a nagging foot injury.
That foot is now in the defending NFC champion’s door, and the Antioch, California product wants to keep it there.
“It’s just crazy being here. Every kid wishes to be in this position,” said Webster, who totaled 2,072 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns his junior and senior seasons. “I’m grateful and have worked hard to get to this point.”
Webster, who set a FCS playoff record last season when he hauled in four receiving touchdowns in a 50-19 semifinal rout of Maine, is aiming to be the next former EWU receiver to plant his feet in the league.
Teammate and fellow pass catcher Cooper Kupp has been one of the Rams’ most reliable targets since he was drafted out of EWU in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
San Francisco 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne went undrafted in 2017 but, like Webster, signed an a rookie free-agent contract. Bourne ultimately carved out a starting job with the 49ers last season.
Webster was a backup as a sophomore in 2016 when Kupp and Bourne helped EWU set a school record with 5,160 receiving yards.
Now Webster shares a roster with about a dozen receivers, including Robert Woods and Cooks, the NFL’s leading duo in receiving yards last season (2,432 yards) after Kupp, Jared Goff’s favorite target, went down with a season-ending knee injury in November.
The Rams’ rookie receivers include Webster, Alex Bachman (Wake Forest), Jalen Greene (Utah State) and Johnathan Lloyd (Duke). Each was undrafted.
Webster impressed some pro scouts in the spring when he ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash and a blazing 6.7 second three-cone drill.
When two-year starting Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam – one of five former EWU standouts on the Rams’ roster – learned his team signed Webster, he was ecstatic.
Ebukam hopes his friend and former college teammate will be around in August when the Rams trim down their roster.
“When (Webster) is healthy, he’s phenomenal,” said Ebukam, who was drafted by the Rams in 2017. “I’m so happy about he’s here and how far he’s come in learning our system. He just needs a shot.
“I think that his brother is going to get a shot as well.”
Webster’s twin brother, Nzuzi Webster, was a starting cornerback at EWU last season who helped the Eagles reach the FCS national title game.
Nzuzi, an All-Big Sky honorable mention, performed at EWU’s pro day in April but didn’t generate any NFL interest.
He said he considered trying his hand at the Canadian Football League, but couldn’t get a passport in time for a tryout.
Nzuzi, who earned a communications degree last winter, said he’s ready to enter the nonfootball workforce, but has been continuing to train in case the NFL, CFL and the forthcoming XFL in 2020 come calling.
This is the first time the Webster brothers – youth league, high school and college teammates – have been separated.
“It’s weird, but we knew we were going to split ways at some point,” Nsimba said. “Right now I want to make him and my family proud.”
Seeing Nsimba in an NFL helmet and No. 14 jersey has been a surreal experience for Nzuzi.
“I’m so happy for him. We always dreamed of this,” Nzuzi said. “Just to see him out there doing his thing, just so proud of him.”
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