Mulligan Makes a Splash

Posted Sep 19, 2012

If you watched a fourth-quarter sequence in which tight end Matthew Mulligan blocked a punt and only a few plays later caught his first career NFL regular season touchdown pass, you might not think much of it.

That is, provided you were aware of the blue-collar Mulligan. But what might surprise you more is that the very player who was responsible for one of the most important sequences in the young 2012 season and who blocked a punt based on a combination of film study and instinct isn’t some sort of football lifer born and raised at the Tao of pigskin.

The reality is that Mulligan didn’t even play football until he arrived at tiny Husson University in Bangor, Maine, where he actually set out to harbor his hoop dreams after he played only basketball and soccer at Penobscot Valley High with a graduating class of 38 and no football program.

“When I went to college, I just didn’t want to take anything for granted,” Mulligan said. “I didn’t want to look back at my life and go ‘Oh, I wish I would have done this.’ So I tried out for the football team.”

After one year on the basketball team, Mulligan decided his 6’4 frame might be better served by playing football. He went out for football that year and continued with basketball but decided football might be where his future was.

So Mulligan opted to transfer to the University of Maine, sitting out a year before playing his final two. There, he fell in love with the weight room and became one of the strongest players in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Mulligan tossed the bench press bar, loaded with 225 pounds, up 35 times, a number that would make many linemen blush. It wasn’t enough to get him drafted but it was enough to land an opportunity in Miami.

“I really love the weight room,” Mulligan said. “I am always learning in the weight room because it really does correlate. If you can be good in the weight room then know what you are supposed to do on the football field, it really helps.”

After bouncing from Miami’s practice squad to Tennessee’s (where he first met current Rams coach Jeff Fisher), Mulligan finally found a home in New York where offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer immediately took a liking to him.

At 6’4, 275 pounds of rock solid muscle, Mulligan cuts an imposing figure who loves to do the dirty work and isn’t afraid to mix it up.

While in New York, Mulligan became the Jets’ primary blocking tight end, catching just six passes in his three seasons there. Unlike many blocking specialist tight ends, Mulligan makes no bones about embracing and enjoying his role.

“To be honest, I don’t know the percentages (of how often I block),” Mulligan said. “I just do whatever they ask me to do. Whatever the coaches want me to do, whether it be blocking, whether it’s special teams, regardless of what it is, I am just happy to help the team out in any way I can.

“Coach Schottenheimer, I feel like he does trust me in the pass game but definitely blocking is my forte.”

Schottenheimer trusts Mulligan so much that he made it a priority to bring him to St. Louis upon accepting the same post in St. Louis. Mulligan quickly grabbed the reins as the team’s main blocking tight end to complement Lance Kendricks.

Against the Redskins, Mulligan showed he is capable of much more than just throwing his weight around as a blocker. Much more than just muscle, Mulligan is a meticulous student of the game who helps on a variety of special teams.

In fact, Mulligan and special teams coach John Fassel spent last week identifying weaknesses in Washington’s punt team. When that weakness revealed itself on a key late third quarter punt, Mulligan wasted no time reacting and came up with a huge block. 

“Matt studies everything and Matt and Coach Fassel got together during the week and thought that they had a chance so Matt went out, saw it and then executed it,” Fisher said. “That’s a hard thing to do in that situation but he’s played for us. It was all Matt. Matt was prepared. He did the right things with his hands and his feet and got the ball off his foot.”

Just four plays later, Mulligan found himself standing wide open in the back of the end zone to catch his first career regular season touchdown. The sequence of blocked punt followed by touchdown catch was something not accomplished by a Ram since the legendary Isaac Bruce did it in the team’s first regular season game at Green Bay after moving to St. Louis.

The exuberant Mulligan broke out into a straight up vertical jump.
“It was just pure excitement, joy,” Mulligan said. “I was happy in the moment. To be a blocking tight end, anytime you can catch a pass, it’s a big deal.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams had a lengthy list of non-participants in Wednesday’s practice, though most were expected.

Running back Steven Jackson, who missed the second half against Washington with a groin injury, did not practice. Fisher said Jackson will be monitored closely the rest of the week though there remains hope he’ll be able to play against Chicago this week.

“He did not practice,” Fisher said. “So, he’s day-to-day.”

Joining Jackson on the sideline were defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle), defensive tackle Matt Conrath (knee), safety Matt Daniels (hamstring), tackle Wayne Hunter (ankle), fullback Brit Miller (thigh) and tackle Rodger Saffold (knee).

Saffold, of course, is expected to miss extended time with a MCL sprain. Conrath did some light work on the sideline. Miller is expecting to be OK.

The Bears had a much shorter injury list with just two players on it but both would be considered big losses if they can’t play this week. Defensive end Julius Peppers (foot) and running back Matt Forte (ankle) did not practice.

PETTIS RETURNS: Austin Pettis was brought back to the roster Monday and officially off exemption on Tuesday when the team placed guard Rokevious Watkins on injured reserve.

On Wednesday, Pettis had his first practice back with the team and Fisher was pleased with his conditioning.

“He worked out twice a day, we’ve come to find out, and he’s in the same type of shape as he was when he left,” Fisher said. “He’s clearly been in his book and he’s ready to play if we need him.”

No decision will be made until closer to game time on how the Rams will split up the work amongst their six wideouts.

RAM BITS: The Rams made a couple of adjustments to the practice squad. Cornerback Quinton Pointer was brought back, effectively swapping spots with center Tim Barnes, who was elevated to the practice squad last week…The Rams also added center Chase Beeler to the practice squad. He was last with Philadelphia’s practice squad and spent time in San Francisco last year.