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Chandler's journey worth the wait

Posted Sep 15, 2011

He wasn’t a sure fire first-round pick coming out of college. Few tight end prospects are, but there are many in the NFL that have very productive and lengthy careers as mid-round picks. Scott Chandler thought he’d be one of them.

Chandler didn’t have eye-popping stats in his time at Iowa, but they were certainly enough to mark the tight end as a player with promise as a receiver despite his imposing size. In 43 games for the Hawkeyes, he had 117 receptions for 1,467 yards (12.5 avg) and 10 touchdowns.

“I thought I was going to be a third or fourth-round pick,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be San Diego. I talked to about 30 NFL teams and San Diego was one of the two that I didn’t talk to so that was a bit of a surprise. But I was able to go to a winning organization that used the tight end a lot.”

Perennial Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates was ahead of him on the depth chart. Chandler knew his game was not the same, but it didn’t keep him from trying to soak up everything he could learn from one of the league’s best at the position.

So although he rarely got on the field on game day he was still getting an NFL education.

“I learned a ton in those early years,” said Chandler. “They were not a waste. I learned so much from Gates, watching the way he went about his work. I’m not the same guy as him, but I learned a ton from him.”

After appearing in one game as a rookie with San Diego, Chandler’s lead up to his second season was promising. He felt more comfortable in the Chargers’ system and he appeared to have a good shot at being Gates’ backup. Then a season-ending injury.

“With 30 seconds left in the last preseason game of my second year I got hurt,” he said. “I may have had a role that year. That was a difficult year.”

It was only made more difficult when a day after the 2009 NFL draft, the Chargers released him.

“It’s not the most opportune time to get cut,” said Chandler. “You have to sit around a bit because all the rosters are full.”

A month later however, he was signed by Dallas, his hometown team, despite the fact that they had just drafted John Phillips to be the team’s third tight end behind All-Pro Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys liked Chandler’s game, but there was no role for him on the active roster. Dallas signed him to their practice squad.

Again Chandler took to observing and learning from Witten in the practice setting. Both being Iowa alums Chandler and Witten developed a bond.

“Wit and I have just always gotten along really well,” he said. “He lived in my hometown and he lived just down the road from my parents. We just seemed to click. We both had young kids and our wives are good friends.

“He’d like to vent to me about all his frustrations. Sometimes he’d talk to me more than he’d talk to his wife about why certain plays should work and I learned a lot through that. I really just listened. I didn’t say too much. I’m usually a guy where if I have something to say, I say it. But I learned a lot in those years and sometimes you’ve just got to listen.”

Late in the 2009 season, the New York Giants signed Chandler off of the Dallas practice squad to their active roster. Chandler was hopeful he’d get an opportunity, but again he found a logjam at the position and was inactive for the last two games of the season.

Leading up to the 2010 season, Chandler thought he’d have a chance to make New York’s roster, but things never panned out.

“I couldn’t really tell you what happened up there,” he said. “They had (Kevin) Boss and they liked him and they drafted Travis Beckham, but he was a 240-pound guy. They kept Bear Pascoe and Jake Ballard. I was just confused at that point when I didn’t stick there.”

Cut by three NFL clubs in the span of two years, Chandler began some deep introspection into his career. He wondered if he’d ever get a real chance on an NFL field, and if he did could he produce?

“Frustration was a part of it,” he said. “I was definitely humbled during that time and doubt creeps into your mind. Can I do the things I think I can do? But at some point you realize that God has a plan for your life and I think he wanted me to be humble in those times so I would appreciate when I got an opportunity.”

Chandler eventually signed with the Cowboys and appeared in nine games during the 2010 season, but did not record a reception as he served on special teams and in a blocking role at times as a fullback. Then in Week 13, Buffalo put in a waiver claim on Dallas practice squad TE Martin Rucker. The Cowboys wanted to keep Rucker, so they promptly signed him to their active roster and waived Chandler, whom Buffalo then claimed instead.

Some speculated that the Bills wanted Chandler all along and made the move on Rucker in the hopes that Chandler would be made available. Either way an opportunity was finally sitting in front of Chandler. With no bona fide starter at the position on Buffalo’s roster, Chandler immersed himself in the playbook late last season and did what he could with his teammates during the lockout.

A lot of his Buffalo teammates have had to pay their dues a bit longer in the NFL just like he did, and it made bonding with the other offensive players pretty seamless.

“I just think that you find that there are a lot of guys in this league that have to work real hard for what they get,” said Chandler. “Not all of us are first-round draft picks. Not that they don’t have to work, but nothing comes easy in this league. I think we all realize that and that gives us kind of a blue collar attitude.”

“I think a guy like Scott really appreciates the opportunity that he has right now and he understands how much he’s had to go through and how much he’s had to put in to get there,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is a former seventh-round pick and is a team’s starting quarterback for the first time in his seventh NFL season. “Maybe sometimes when you take that road instead of being the guy where the job is handed to you, you appreciate it that much more.”

Chandler’s two-touchdown performance in Week 1 was very promising. Head coach Chan Gailey, who is admittedly never satisfied, said he was “pleased” with his tight end’s performance. But Chandler isn’t ready to believe he’s found an NFL home yet. Being cut four times in three years leaves lasting scars.  

“I hope I’ve found a home,” he said of Buffalo. “You can never get too comfortable in this league and you’ve got to keep working. You’ve got to think that they’re always trying to replace you and go out there every week and play like it’s your last.”

If Week 1 was any indication, it will be one of many Chandler firsts with the Bills.