On an SB Nation page this week, there was this headline: Could Steven Parker crack the 53-man roster in a stacked safety position for the Los Angeles Rams?
Within the piece was speculation that during training camp, he will compete for the fifth and final safety spot on the roster.
A former Jenks superstar and a three-year starter in the Oklahoma secondary, Parker last season was a Rams safety. An undrafted rookie who performed well during training camp and had an interception during Los Angeles’ final NFL preseason game against New Orleans.
The Rams were loaded at the safety positions, however, so Parker spent the 2018 season on the practice squad. He was involved in the day-to-day operation. He always was available if there were injuries, but wasn’t in uniform on Sundays.
The 23-year-old Parker wasn’t disconnected on Sundays, though. He would watch intently from the sideline, wanting to know what coverages were called before every snap.
During the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to New England, Parker made it a point to stand near defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Parker says he wanted to hear every defensive call.
In a few days, after having spent most of his offseason in Tulsa, Parker departs for Irvine, California, the site of the Rams’ training camp.
“Football is my job now,” he said. “I still love it, and I don’t really consider it demanding because I love to compete and it’s still fun. Even if I’m not studying my playbook in-depth, it’s on my mind. Because of the position I play, I’m responsible for giving calls to (other defenders) on my side of the field. My corner, my linebacker, my defensive end.”
“I have a better picture of everything because I’m at the back of the defense. It’s a big responsibility. When we’re doing (video study), if my coach asks a question, I’ve got to have an answer — the right answer.”
For some athletes, the money is the overwhelming motivation to continue in such a punishing sport. For some, there is a love-of-the-game component that goes with the desire for money.
The opportunity window for most players isn’t open for very long, so Parker is doubly motivated to achieve a career in the NFL. He can’t afford to have a flat practice session — or, really, even a poor rep — while in camp.
In Tulsa this summer, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Parker prepared himself for the grind. He subjected himself to grueling, daily conditioning sessions.
There were at least two sessions on most days, he reports, and occasionally there were three.
During early morning weight-lifting work at Jenks, Parker was in the company of demanding coaches and 80 supportive teammates. The dynamic was comparable at OU, he says.
At the NFL level, however, most of Parker’s offseason activity is dictated by Parker himself.
If he were to ignore the alarm on his phone — if he were to choose to sleep for two more hours or cancel a workout altogether — there is no one to shake him out of bed and force him to lift and run.
He has to presume that the Rams’ other safeties are doing the work every day, so he does it every day.
Parker gets guidance and encouragement from local trainer and big-brother figure John Jackson, but for the most part, Parker is responsible for Parker. When his alarm buzzes, he bounces to his feet, has breakfast and reports to the St. John Siegfried Health Club for strength, speed and agility drills.
“When we get to training camp,” Parker said, “the coaches will look at each of us and ask two questions: ‘Is he in shape or not? Does he know his playbook or not?’
“You better be in shape and you better know the playbook. If you don’t come in ready, you’re already way behind on the first day.”
If Parker is a member of LA’s active roster during all of 2019 season, or if he were to be picked up by another team for the entirety of the season, he would be paid the NFL-mandated minimum for a second-year player. That salary amounts to $570,000.
That’s a nice minimum.
If Parker again is a practice-squad employee, he would get $8,000 a week. If he were a practice-squad guy throughout the 17-week season, he would collect $136,000.
That also is good money, but it’s not $570,000.
Eavesdropping on his defensive coordinator might be interesting, but it’s not as fulfilling as being on the field, wearing jersey No. 38 and making plays for a championship-contending team.
If Parker can be in uniform on Sundays, the bigger money will flow.
That’s why he runs early morning sprints instead of sleeping until 10 o’clock.