FOXBORO -- It's not tough to find a guy in an NFL locker room who played multiple sports in high school. You're less likely to run across a pro who played more than football in college; the time commitment alone discourages it.
But it's not an impossible feat.
Sunday afternoon the Cleveland Browns meet the Patriots in Foxboro. Although much attention has been paid to receiver Josh Gordon (and rightly so), a wary eye must be kept on tight end Jordan Cameron. The 6-5, 245-pounder has 63 catches for 704 yards and six touchdowns.
He's come far from red-shirting at Brigham Young University in 2006. For the basketball team. Indeed, Cameron didn't play college football until 2007, when he transferred to USC to try his hand at receiving. But far from falling behind, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted Friday that basketball experience can help a skill player.
"I think the biggest thing I've seen with basketball players throughout the years is the hands. Those guys have to have good hands. They handle the ball a lot and it's on them quickly; they're cutting and it's a short pass and a lot of times it comes with good speed, or bounce passes, or trying to get it around a defender, that kind of thing.
"They have to be able to react to the ball very quickly. It's a lot different than football, seeing the ball travel however many yards to you. Even if you're coming out of a cut it's still not like in basketball where the passes a lot of times are very short, very tight. You've got to reach out and extend, get the ball away from the defender like you do in football situations.
Rebounding in particular is a skill that translates well for NFL pass catchers. Rather than wait for the ball to come to them, basketball players learn to go up and fight to get it.
"I'd just say in general, basketball players, and certainly basketball players who have come into football that I've coached or observed, I'd say one pretty common thing is their hands and their ability to handle the ball aggressively, cleanly, and it gets on quickly," Belichick remarked. "And it doesn't seem to affect them like it does other players sometimes, where the ball is on them and they can't quite find it. Those guys seem like they're used to it. They've done it their whole lives."
Cameron has company.
Some of the league's top tight ends played college basketball: Jimmy Graham at Miami (68 catches for 988 yards for New Orleans this season), Julius Thomas at Portland State (45 catches for 590 catches for Denver), and Antonio Gates at Eastern Michigan University and Kent State (64 catches for 726 yards for San Diego), to name a few.
So why isn't the transition more common, considering such examples of success?
"I would say the big thing for most basketball players, in general, is that they're quicker than they are fast," New England's coach explained. "When you get out there and time a lot of those guys in the 40-yard dash, they're slow. They might look fast on a basketball court, but we have such a much bigger field that vertical speed, especially for those positions where most of them don't have the speed to play."
Belichick formed his opinion based on the talks and experiences he's had with former Indiana University men's basketball coach Bob Knight.
"They have quickness, and a lot of times they have exceptional quickness, but when it just comes to straight flat-out speed, I'd say that's where a lot of times in the scouting part of it the deficiencies come up. You go see a basketball player and say these guys have great hands, these guys have great quickness, this guy's strong, he's competitive, but then you go out and time him and he runs 4.75-4.8 [seconds], and I'm like, what do you do with him?
"[I had] a couple of those situations with Coach Knight at Indiana where he says, 'Hey, I want you to come take a look at this kid; he's this, he's that,' but then you put a watch on him and he's just not fast enough to play at this level."
Speed is a basic need for NFL defensive backs and receivers. The best 40-yard dash time at the 2013 combine for receivers was 4.27 seconds, whereas the top tight end time was 4.5.
Cameron was considered a raw prospect out of college, but one who had good quickness off the line, the right height, and those excellent hands. He's increased his stats exponentially in each of his three seasons with the Browns and has proved to be a legitimate player.
A football player.