This offseason, with Stevie Johnson traded to San Francisco, along with Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams being added as outside receivers, the Bills slot receiver position appeared to be Robert Woods’ to lose.
But despite a very good camp performance by the second-year wideout, who head coach Doug Marrone has said can play all three wide receiver positions, Chris Hogan has played much of the first-team reps in both practices and games in camp. Hogan has adjusted very well for a player with very little experience playing the game of football.
Hogan went to Penn State University on a lacrosse scholarship, and graduated in 2010. With one year of eligibility remaining, he played his only season of college football at Monmouth University in New Jersey, finishing with 12 catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
Hogan then began a long journey to find an NFL team, going undrafted, then signing with the San Francisco 49ers in July of 2011 before being released in September. Hogan was then signed to the New York Giants’ practice squad on September 12, only to be released on September 23.
The Miami Dolphins then signed him to their practice squad on December 27, and became a training camp standout with a great nickname. Running back Reggie Bush called Hogan “7-11″, because he was always open (via thephinsider.com’s Kevin Nogle):
Hogan was spotlighted during this most recent episode, and, unlike players like Roberto Wallace and Michael Egnew, who took the brunt of coaches frustrations, Hogan came out looking great.
So great in fact, that he came away from the show with a nickname. During the show, running back Reggie Bush called Hogan “7-11,” referencing the act that the convenience store chain is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It stuck. Hogan has been able to use precise rout running to get separation from the cornerbacks during practice, and seems, as the nickname would suggest, to always be open.
Following that one episode, Hogan’s name is now being discussed around the country. He’s become a target for the media at Dolphins’ practices, and is being requested for radio interviews. Overnight, Hogan has become a celebrity.
Despite being recruited out of high school by Rutgers and Connecticut, among others, Hogan played one season of football at the college level, playing defensive back for Monmouth in 2010, after spending three seasons playing lacrosse at Penn State. Hogan received some draft buzz after running a 4.47 second 40-yard dash at Fordham University’s Pro Day leading into the 2011 Draft, but he would go unselected.
His performance and celebrity was not enough to stick with the Dolphins, however, as he was one of the final cuts in the 2012 training camp, and was released from the team’s practice squad on September 11. A couple of months later, the Buffalo Bills put Hogan on their practice squad, and promoted him to the active roster in December.
During Bills training camp last year, I was able to speak to Hogan about his nickname, what receivers in the league he looks up, and more:
After being on an NFL roster an entire season last year, getting his first 10 career catches for 83 yards, Hogan was been even more of a revelation in this camp. He has played first-team snaps in both practices and games, exclusively from the slot receiver position.
Despite his early inability to not find a permanent home in the NFL, Hogan has used the first three years in the league to learn more about a game he had very little experience in beforehand.
“I only played a year of football, so coming in I had a lot to learn,” said Hogan. “These past three years I’ve just kind of soaked up all the knowledge, being around guys San Fran, Giants, Miami, here, just a lot to learn. I was able to do that over these past three years.”
Hogan caught two passes for 43 yards against the Panthers on Friday, including a 32 yard grab on a wheel route that E.J. Manuel threw in stride to the wideout. Manuel expressed on Sunday that he “definitely” has confidence in either Hogan or Woods at the very important slot receiver position.
“Those guys have done a great job, whether it’s the drag route or the seam route, those guys have done an awesome job,” said Manuel. “It’s not easy to go across the middle as a receiver because those safeties and linebackers are trying to hit you. You kind of put your body in harms way. But they’ve been doing a great job of it. We try to protect them with the ball, and they’ve been coming down with great catches.”
Woods and Hogan will be depended on to make plays over the middle to make teams pay for putting safeties over the top to stop deep balls to receivers like Watkins, Williams, and Marquise Goodwin. Despite being given more quality opportunities to prove his worth in that position, Hogan has not changed his approach to camp.
“I’m the type of guy that’s going to go about my business the same regardless of the situation I’m in,” said Hogan. “Whether I get first-team reps or i’m getting practice reps, I’m still going to out there and do my job and get better every day.”
Hogan sees “a lot of talent” in the wide receiver room, and believes that he has to be on his “A-game every single practice” and games in order to secure a spot on the roster.
The fourth-year receiver has developed more chemistry with all three quarterbacks this off-season. He thinks that in his second year with Buffalo, “some things are starting to click” with the Bills’ signal callers.
To improve as a player, Hogan has studied the route-running and press release skills of former teammate Davone Bess, Wes Welker, and Brandon Marshall.
“Just how they run routes and how they get off the line,” said Hogan. “What they do in certain coverages and against certain defensive backs. You kind of just pick apart different little things about their game and try to apply it to mine.”
There have been a few undrafted players who have become stars from the slot receiver position, such as Bess, Welker, Victor Cruz, and Lance Moore. Hogan said its his goal to be the next star slot receiver in the league.
“In this league, I set high goals for myself,” said Hogan. “I’m just going to keep working to get there.”
Though his initial stardom began because of a stint with Miami, Hogan chuckled when asked if he has the two Dolphins games (September 14 at home, November 13 in Miami) circled on his calender.
“Always,” said Hogan. “It’s always fun to play against teams that you played for previously and obviously been cut by. Especially last year going down there, beat them, and then play them at home and beat them twice in one year was awesome. Everything single game is huge in this league, but personally you sort of circle those ones on the calendar.”
Hogan has three goals set: Make the roster, stay healthy, and “try to help the team reach its goals”.
“And our goal is to make the playoffs.”
Hogan has yet to have inexperience, being cut, and hype stand in the way of achieving his objectives. And he doesn’t appear to let them be an issue now.
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