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Brett Elliott ready to claim NFL roster spot

by: Vern Uyetake, Former Lake Oswego quarterback Brett Elliott is anxious to attend the San Diego Chargers’ preseason camp, which begins July 27. Elliott earned a spot on the Chargers’ practice squad last year but was cut from the team four weeks into the regular season. This year, Elliott said he is better prepared to claim one of the Chargers’ roster spots.

Lake Oswego's Brett Elliott is ready to take his second shot at landing a roster spot with the San Diego Chargers. He thinks he's now prepared to prove that he belongs in the NFL.

Elliott endured last year's preseason camp with the Chargers, managing to survive a series of roster cuts before the team's regular-season opener. But, even after an impressive exhibition performance against the San Francisco 49ers, Elliott was still relegated to the Chargers' practice squad.

It wasn't exactly an unexpected move since the Chargers' coaching staff had given virtually all of the snaps in practice and preseason games to the three quarterbacks ahead of Elliott on the team's depth chart - Philip Rivers, A.J. Feeley and Charlie Whitehurst.

Elliott's plan was to simply stick around long enough on the practice squad to get a chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, the Chargers had other plans.

After just four games in the regular season, San Diego decided to cut Elliott and give his spot on the practice squad to a player the Chargers felt they needed to hold onto.

Elliott fears that the Chargers might keep just three signal callers after this year's camp and leave the practice squad without a quarterback. So Elliott figures he'll have to beat out one of the two backups behind Rivers - either Whitehurst or Billy Volek, who was acquired during the season last year from Tennessee.

'I'm going in there with the mentality that I've got to take one of their jobs,' Elliott said after one of his final workouts before heading back to camp.

After getting cut by the Chargers last year, Elliott was hopeful that another NFL team would pick him up, but none of the other clubs called.

'It was tough the first couple weeks (after being cut). I wanted to be playing,' he said.

So Elliott returned home for the rest of the fall, spending part of that time working out with the Lake Oswego High School football team, and even offering his services as a volunteer quarterbacks coach.

Although he would have preferred spending that time in the NFL, Elliott said he loved reconnecting with the coaches that helped turn him into a star athlete.

'I think they're still the best coaches around,' Elliott said, adding that many of them are good enough to coach at the college level.

'I think it helped my state of mind being around those guys,' he said.

After his stint as a high school assistant, Elliott was asked by the Chargers to play in NFL Europe earlier this year. It's not exactly the same as playing in the NFL, but the European league has been an excellent stepping stone for a number of players who eventually made it to the big league.

Elliott was assigned to play for the Rhein Fire, which recently finished the season with a 4-6 record. It was the first time that Elliott had played for a losing team. The worst part, though, was the fact that the former LO star had to split time at quarterback with Cody Pickett, who played at the University of Washington.

Splitting time at quarterback seldom gives either player a chance to get comfortable with his teammates or the team's offense. And Elliott's performance suffered because of it.

'I didn't play as well as I wanted to,' Elliott said. 'Overall, it was a good experience playing in NFL Europe, but I wish I had played more consistently.

'Nothing ever went right,' Elliott added. 'When I threw a nice ball, it seemed the receiver would drop it, or the ball would get tipped and intercepted.'

The Chargers weren't too distressed about the way Elliott played, however. They were more concerned about getting the aspiring star some much needed playing time. So, in a way, it was mission accomplished.

If nothing else, Elliott had a great time during his stay in Europe. Playing there is unlike anything an athlete can experience while playing in the U.S.

'Europe was crazy,' Elliott said. 'It was like the atmosphere you would see in college. It was a blast.'

Unfortunately, not enough fans attended games in Europe, so the NFL decided to pull the plug on the fledgling league. Oddly, Rhein had one of the best attendance records, averaging more than 30,000 fans per game. But they were more into the tailgating than the games, Elliott said.

'The fans loved the atmosphere … but they didn't care if we were winning or losing,' he said.

Regardless of what happened in NFL Europe, Elliott still likes his chances to secure a roster spot in the NFL.

Hopefully, he'll get more of a chance to play during the Chargers' four preseason games. Last year, he didn't get to play until the second half of San Diego's final preseason game.

He played well in that game against the 49ers, 'but I was so nervous,' said Elliott, who set a college touchdown record while playing at Linfield College.

This time around, Elliott feels better about his ability to play in the NFL.

'I'm in pretty good shape … and I feel like my arm is as strong as ever,' he said.

Now he just needs a chance to prove himself.

'I hope it's a really long year,' Elliott said.