The pros, of course, are all about competition, and the first place that begins to build during the spring is via the draft. If you're an offensive lineman, and your team picks up a couple of tackles in the first three rounds, you know that training camp will feature a battle for your professional life.
One Mountaineer alumnus who could be facing that scenario in a short time is defensive back Lance Frazier. Although the WVU dual threat had a solid season after being picked up by the Dallas Cowboys midway through last year, he knows that his spot on the team only as solid as the next pick the Cowboys make.
"Oh yes," was Frazier's quick reply when asked if he'll be watching the draft. "You always want to be alert to what your team is trying to do. Especially with the way I came into the league, it's kind of a here today and gone tomorrow type of deal. So you always want to know who your competition is and which way the team is swinging, because that gives you an idea of where you stand on the team."
Frazier has had his share of uncertainty in the NFL. Originally a free agent signee of the Baltimore Ravens, he impressed the coaching staff with his skills, but fell just short of making the final roster. The next day, however, the Ravens signed him to their practice squad, where he stayed until for a couple of months. Then, on Oct. 12, 2004, desperate for defensive back help after being decimated by injuries, the Cowboys signed Frazier. Less than a month later, Frazier made his first NFL start against the Cincinnati Bengals, and acquitted himself well.
"I did well considering where I came from and how I got into the league," said Frazier, who finished the season with 33 tackles, two interceptions and three pass deflections. "I feel like I came a long way last year. I was happy with the opportunity just to be out there. My play was kind of up and down at times, but being a rookie that's sort of what you expect.
"The biggest thing was getting that on field experience," he continued. "I'll probably get some more time at nickel back this year, and in a way that will probably help me a little bit with punt returns. Last year I went back there tired a lot after playing all the time, which was sort of like it was here. It's a heavy load, so just playing on third down might help."
Frazier might not need much help to establish himself as a premier punt returner. He led the Cowboys with 24 returns for 225 yards (an average of 9.4 yards per return), with a long of 55.
Outside the stars and established regulars in the league is a large group of players fighting tooth and nail to remain on an NFL roster. Frazier, being one of those, is counting on his versatility to help keep his spot with Dallas.
"That's a key in the NFL," said Frazier of his skills at both defensive back and kick returner. "The more you can do, the better. It helps raise your value, whatever you can bring to the table. That was one of the main reasons I got a chance [in the league]."
Frazier won't just be watching TV and hoping the Cowboys don't draft too many defensive backs, however. He's also participating in all of Dallas' offseason workouts and conditioning programs – not that he would have much choice.
"I'm working out now, just trying to get as strong and as fast as possible. [Bill] Parcells makes us work out with the team. It's mandatory, and everyone works out together. I am trying to prepare myself for the long season. I want to improve on the little things that I didn't do so well last year."
Speaking of Parcells, is he the same behind the scenes as he is portrayed in the media.
"He's a hard guy, a disciplined, old school type of guy, but he's a different guy in the locker room than he is in front of the camera," Frazier said with a smile. "A lot of people have a bad perception of him. He's a great coach, and he's a funny guy but he knows his business."
And as the preseason progresses, Frazier will try to show his head coach that he knows it, and knows it better than any draft pick the Cowboys bring in.