Ex-USF stars Marquel Blackwell and DeAndrew Rubin look to catch on with the Jets and Packers, respectively.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published July 20, 2003
For as long as he can remember, Marquel Blackwell has had the ability to dodge the rush, buy time and find the receiver who popped open at the last minute.
Most of the time, that receiver was DeAndrew Rubin.
The two have played together and won big at every level. They started in the Lakewood youth leagues, helped Dixie Hollins reach the state championship in 1995 and played big roles in South Florida's 17-5 record during its first two seasons in Division I-A.
Perhaps their biggest highlight came during a victory two years ago at Pittsburgh, which signaled the Bulls' arrival as a team to be reckoned with in Division I-A. Blackwell threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns. He also set school records for completions (37) and attempts (65).
His favorite target, Rubin, set the record for receptions by halftime with 10 and finished with 11 for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
But after hooking up for 14 touchdowns during their college careers, Blackwell and Rubin must compile statistics at the next level on their own.
In April, Rubin was selected in the seventh round by the Packers. Blackwell signed as a free agent with the Jets.
Rubin reported to camp Friday. His first game will be the Hall of Fame game against Kansas City on Aug. 5. Blackwell reports today and will play in the Tokyo Bowl against the Buccaneers on Aug. 3.
"We knew it would be a long shot for us to keep playing together," Blackwell said. "It was eventually going to come to this."
The two came close to staying together. Green Bay was among 15 teams who were interested in Blackwell and kept in contact throughout the two-day draft.
But the scenario did not come together. Blackwell watched as his name fell off the board. He signed with the Jets because of his familiarity with the coaches and the opportunity he would get.
Blackwell played with coach Herm Edward's son, Marcus, and played for receivers coach Mike Canales, who was the Bulls' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during Blackwell's first three seasons.
"A lot of people didn't give Marquel his due," said Pat Lawlor, Blackwell's agent. "There were questions about his size and the fact that he was in the shotgun. But of all the teams, the Jets ended up being a great situation for him. He's going to a team where they know how good of a player he is."
Blackwell is among four quarterbacks on the roster. Chad Pennington is the starter, and Vinny Testaverde is the backup. That much is certain. The third spot, though, is in the air. Blackwell will battle Brooks Bollinger, who the Jets selected in the sixth round.
And with five preseason games, Blackwell will have plenty of chances to distinguish himself.
"My big thing was I didn't care where I went just as long as I got an opportunity," Blackwell said. "I know coming here, they know I can play. There's five preseason games, which is about half of a college season. That will give me time to pick everything up."
Rubin also has the benefit of an additional preseason game to prove himself. Running the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, Rubin was the 13th-fastest player in April's draft. He used that speed to excel on special teams, returning four punts and one kickoff for touchdowns at USF.
But to make it as a receiver, Rubin must show his pass-catching abilities. Injuries have limited him during the past two seasons.
"I'm excited. My childhood dream has come true," Rubin said. "All I have to do is make it happen, and I know I'm going to have to impress them as a receiver. I've been working a lot in minicamps to improve."
Blackwell and Rubin won't be reunited on the field any time soon. The Jets and Packers don't play during the preseason or regular season. But that's fine with them. They know they have bigger priorities.
"We're more worried right now with making it on the roster," Rubin said. "If we can do that, then maybe we can see each other down the road."