WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — There are no days off for undrafted rookies entering the NFL.
They can never coast, mail in a play or get caught daydreaming in a meeting. They are fighting for their football lives, and a moment of weakness could bring their dream to a close.
Each day, they have to find a way to stand out among the dozens of other players in camp who were drafted by the team or given more lucrative free-agent deals than the minuscule salaries paid to undrafted players. Bad practices cannot exist.
“Every single day, my back is against the wall,” undrafted safety Pierre Warren said. “I have to make a play. I feel like I have to do something to stand out from everyone else.”
Warren is one of a handful of undrafted rookies who have positioned themselves to compete for a roster spot in the first week of practice. Wide receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones also have put themselves in the mix.
But being in the mix in early August is only the first step. These players will have to keep up the pace over the next month and find a way to translate their practice to success in preseason games. If they don’t, chances are they’ll be among the first to go Aug. 27 when the 90-man rosters are cut to 75.
Running back Travaris Cadet sympathizes with Warren, Jones and Coleman’s plight. He, too, once entered camp as an unknown commodity but is now in his third camp with the Saints. His advice to those players: Approach every single play like you are fighting for your life — and be willing to sacrifice it.
“You’re always being graded, and the film don’t lie,” he said. “At the end of the night, when they are evaluating players, they want to see you going full speed — even if you’re unsure, because the playbooks are really big.
“Effort is something you can’t teach. You’re breaking your back, you’re willing to die for the man next to you. Once that man next to you got confidence that you’ll get the job done, that’s when you find yourself in the position you want to be in.”
The effort has been there for Warren, Jones and Coleman. But perhaps more importantly, they’ve been given more reps in recent practices due to injuries to safety Jairus Byrd and wide receivers Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem.
And while no one wants to see a teammate get injured, these players realize that vacancies equal more opportunities to shine.
For Warren, Byrd’s slow return from offseason back surgery gave him the opportunity to slide into the second-team defense alongside fifth-round pick Vinnie Sunseri. He has made the most of it. So far, Warren’s highlights include an interception, a forced fumble and several pass breakups. He also has made some plays on special teams, drawing a flag on Khiry Robinson on Thursday for an illegal block to the back.
Each play gives Warren another indication that he can, indeed, play in this league.
“Now we’re in full pads, and everyone gets to show what their abilities really are,” Warren said. “I’m feeling confident.”
Jones is also full of confidence. He attacked his playbook in the offseason and already feels comfortable despite it having few similarities to the script he followed at Valdosta State.
He has been given the opportunity to catch passes from all three quarterbacks and has also made plays on special teams. If given an opportunity, Jones believes he can make the most of it.
“I just know that I’m a great receiver,” he said. “I just try to prove it and show it every day. I have to take advantage of every opportunity given to me. If the ball is in the air, I have to get it.”
Right now, for all three of these guys, the ball is there for the taking. Grabbing it wasn’t an issue for Coleman during Friday’s practice.
As time ticked away on the session, he ran a post pattern and sprawled to catch a pass deep in the end zone. His momentum carried him to the sideline, but he managed to tap at least one of his feet inbounds before falling out of bounds.
Whether he got his second foot down is up for debate. Either way, it didn’t matter.
He was still given points for making a play, which is all that counts right now.