Undrafted free agents need all the help they can get to make it in the NFL. Coming from a college program that runs a pro-style offense with pro-style practices should certainly help former Albany TE Brian Parker as he tries to make the Bolts' roster this summer.
"We were big on [using] three tight ends, pro-style formations, off-tackle runs, and we did a lot of play-action with him," said Joe Bernard, the offensive coordinator at Albany. "We're not a stretchy team. We run more of an NFL-style offense. That helped bring along his blocking skills."
Albany head coach Greg Gattuso took over his position in 2014, so he only coached Parker for one year, but Gattuso's up-tempo practices prepared Parker for life in the NFL.
"His practice habits needed to improve. We told him that," Gattuso said. "You have to push yourself in practice. Big guys need that extra oomph. I think his practice habits became really strong over the year we had him. He's going to go to camp and be ready to take on big, strong, fast guys."
Bernard describes Parker (6'4", 265 lbs.) as an athletic tight end with soft hands, citing his ability to stretch the field as well as block.
"He was a matchup nightmare for safeties and linebackers," Bernard said. "He can stretch the field a lot better than you think."
Parker, like other undrafted free agents, will have to prove he can help the Chargers in other ways. For many rookies, their performance on special teams makes or breaks their quest for a spot on an NFL roster. Parker was such an important offensive weapon for Albany that he wasn't used much on special teams.
"He knows he needs to do that at the next level. I think he'll do well and have a good opportunity to make the team," Bernard said.
In addition to having the physical tools, Parker's coaches said the tight end's ability to think on the fly will make it easier to adjust to the pro game.
"Our offense has a lot of changing plays, switching routes, a lot of cerebral things going on. He had to make decisions based on the looks he got from linebackers and safeties," Gattuso said.
Parker was Third Team All-CAA last year with 39 catches for 500 receiving yard and five touchdowns. He attended the NFL Regional Combine in Baltimore and later performed at the NFL Super Regional Combine at the Arizona Cardinals training facility. In Baltimore, he recorded a 4.76 40-yard dash, 39.5-inch vertical jump, 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press and a broad jump of 10'3". At his Albany Pro Day, he reduced his 40 time to a 4.55.
Bernard was surprised Parker wasn't picked at the draft.
"After seeing his measurable at the Combine, we thought he'd be a late-round draft pick," Bernard said. "The problem was, he was totally unknown until he went to the Combine, then the teams interested in tight ends started to sniff around just before the draft."
While he wasn't drafted, Parker may still have a bright future in San Diego. The Chargers have four veteran tight ends on the roster -- Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, John Phillips and David Johnson -- but all of them are entering contract years. If Parker can stick around, even if it's on the practice squad, he has a shot to be a part of the team's wide-open future at the position.
Can Brian Parker carve out a spot in San Diego? Join the discussion inside our new message boards!
Scott Neinas has worked as a journalist since 1993. He covered the U.S. Hockey National Development Team in Ann Arbor, Mich., and worked as a staff reporter for the Monroe Evening News. Follow him on Twitter: @scott9s.