The first time Chris Hogan was cut, by San Francisco, he didn’t give it too much thought. This whole post-lockout summer was “a blur.” The New York Giants signed him to the practice squad and let him go 11 days later.
But getting cut by the Miami Dolphins? Different story.
“You invest a lot of time,” Hogan said, “and then all of a sudden you’re back to square one. It’s hard.”
Hogan, a “7/11” cult hero during HBO's Hard Knocks, was cut, made the practice squad the following 2012 season and then cut for good. So with a buddy at his side, he hopped into the car and drove 20 hours north to his hometown in New Jersey.
His career was in limbo.
“You can’t sit there and think about why it happened,” Hogan said. “It did happen. I still had so much to learn and I knew that I could play in this league. So it was just a matter of staying in shape and waiting for a phone call.”
The Bills called. And Hogan, the former Penn State lacrosse star, has proven he’s a NFL receiver. Last season, he caught 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns. After Buffalo signed Percy Harvin and drafted Dezmin Lewis in the seventh round, Hogan will be scratching and clawing for a roster spot again. Among the many position battles in training camp this summer, wide receiver could be the most heated.
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Harvin are presumably locks. Beyond them, who knows?
Former third-round pick Marquise Goodwin earned a silver medal at the Pan American Games last week, but is danger of getting cut. Marcus Easley, a core special teams player, signed a four-year, $7 million deal this offseason. Central Arkansas’ Lewis is a tall, fast raw prospect who had 945 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Marcus Thigpen made the play of the game in Buffalo’s most impressive win last season. Caleb Holley is a darkhorse.
There's also Justin Brown, Andre Davis, Tobais Palmer and Deonte Thompson.
All of the talent in the world doesn’t matter much if the quarterbacks sputter — and we’ll get to that question later — but this is the deepest the Bills have been at wideout in years.
Who makes the cut? Hogan has the most production of this group.
“This is a good room that we have this year,” Hogan said. “It seems like everyone can do everything. The thing that I like to do is I can go inside and I can go outside. And either way, I can be a physical receiver or I can be a quick, speed receiver. All depending on who I’m playing and how they’re going to play me, I’m able to adapt to those situations very quickly.
“The ability to create separation in this league is definitely an art form and I’m trying to be the best at that as I can be.”
He still hears calls of “7/11!” from fans all the time. Asked how else he gets open, Hogan joked he can’t “divulge and let those secrets get out.” The former lacrosse star at Penn State, who played one year of college football at Monmouth, believes the lacrosse background has helped.
Lacrosse is a “physically demanding sport,” he said. As a coast-to-coast midfielder, Hogan stayed in incredible condition.
And all along, he has adopted survival instincts.
Hogan worked on trimming weight this off-season, from 215 pounds to 205. Since he was young, Hogan says he’s been driven by a “crazy” work ethic, by a need to finish what he started.
So when he looks around at his position, Hogan realizes his job is on the line again.
“Yeah,” said Hogan, chuckling. “That’s pretty much what it is. I’ve never gone into anything where it’s ‘Oh, I definitely have a job.’ I’m competing for a spot and I know that going into it. So it’s not a surprise to me. This is a business, just like anything else. They’re going to bring in more guys every single year, guys that they think can help the team. At the end of the day, I’m hoping to prove I’m one of those guys.
“I put the time in. This is my life. I’m not just out there playing football. I invest a lot of time into this — a lot of time watching film and a lot of time studying and a lot of time in the weight room, making sure physically that I’m able to compete at the highest level. Those are the things that I do that I think have kept me around. People notice the first guy in, last guy out.”
Elsewhere, eyes will be on Goodwin all summer. The team took a risk in taking him 78th overall in the 2013 draft — he wasn’t featured much in Texas’ offense, yet ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He still is one of the fastest players in the game, so if Goodwin can harness it under new position coach Sanjay Lal maybe there’s a role for him.
Goodwin also lost his kick-returning job in 2014, only had one reception in 10 games last season and must prove he can stay healthy.
Holley could be a potential deep threat. Thigpen, who has developed survival instincts himself on nine teams in two leagues since 2009, had the 75-yard punt return for a touchdown to lift Buffalo over Green Bay.
The competition begins this week.
“My approach is the same as it’s been any other camp that I’ve gone into," Hogan said. "Make the most of every single opportunity I get and don’t get anyone a reason not to trust you. That’s what I’ve lived by, that’s what’s gotten me to where I’m at today.”
Previous posts, examining the Bills' 10 pressing questions entering training camp...